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Four Reasons Why The College Board’s New Adversity Score Is A Bad Idea


The College Board plans to include an “adversity score” for all SAT test-takers.  

The College Board revealed that it will calculate an “adversity score” for every student taking the SAT. According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s an attempt to capture and communicate the social and economic backgrounds of test takers so that the colleges to which they apply can more objectively and systematically consider such factors in admission decisions.

The adversity score will be a number ranging from 1 to 100, calculated from 15 factors such as neighborhood crime rates and poverty levels. A score of 50 will be the average; scores above 50 reflect increasing levels of hardship, and scores below indicate higher degrees of privilege. SAT officials indicated that students would not be informed of their adversity scores, but colleges will have access to them as they make admission decisions.

According to the Journal, the development of the new score began in 2015. It was beta-tested at 50 colleges during last year’s admission process. The plan is to increase the number of participating institutions to 150 this year and then expand use of the index nationally the following year.

The obvious intent of this adversity score is to control for factors that have been found to correlate with SAT performance and to improve the perceived fairness of college admissions at a time where they have come under heavy fire for being subject to fraud, bias and privilege. Whether the adversity score will do the trick and also be able to withstand legal challenges and public scrutiny remains to be seen.

This is not the first time the College Board has “contextualized” SAT scores based on student backgrounds. According to the Journal’s reporting, about 20 years ago it experimented with what it called a “Strivers” program that used socioeconomic variables – and at school’s discretion, race – to predict SAT scores.  Students whose actual scores exceeded their predicted scores by more than 200 points were dubbed “strivers.” Presumably, they fared well in the admissions chase, but there were so many objections to the program by institutions that it was discontinued.

The adversity score apparently does not include race, but it’s obvious that the score is an attempt to be a proxy for race, thereby dodging claims that it is racially discriminatory.

A good idea or a bad plan?

What should we make of the new SAT adversity score? Will it increase fairness in college admissions? Will it help increase the diversity of enrollments?  Or will it backfire, adding to Americans’ skepticism about the fairness of college admissions? Will it be viewed as an algorithm for political correctness, or worse, a form of handicapping that brings students with high scores more harm than good in the long run?

David Coleman, the CEO of the College Board, justified the adversity score to the Journal this way: “We can’t sit on our hands and ignore the disparities of wealth reflected in the SAT.”

He’s right, but that doesn’t mean that adversity scores will solve the problem. Here are four reasons why we should be skeptical.

We need fair, transparent, college processes that result in the admissions of diverse, capable students prepared to study hard and finish college. But do we really need adversity scores to do so? No.

This content was originally published here.

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