SAT Board Abandons Flawed “Adversity Score” After Widespread Backlash

In recent years, college admissions teams have changed what they’re looking for, relying less on test scores like the ACT and SAT as people have increasingly claimed these tests are inherently discriminatory against underprivileged students who can’t access expensive and time-consuming test prep courses and materials to help them do well.

In an attempt to bring itself back to popularity with the admissions departments of colleges and universities, the College Board, the company responsible for writing and administering the SAT, made changes a couple of years ago and added an “adversity score” to their scoring process. The idea was to predict students’ social and economic background and give students a corresponding score to help level the playing field.

The adversity score for each student was determined based on 15 factors, including the high school’s crime and poverty rates, the student’s “housing environment,” the education and income of the students’ parents, and whether the student has access to advanced placement (AP) and other higher-level learning classes.

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Potential scores ranged from 1 to 100, which the average being 50. Above-average scores were meant to indicate adversity, while numbers below 50 indicated privilege.

Test takers were not permitted access to their adversity scores, but college admissions advisers could look at the scores through the SAT’s online score reporting system to help determine whether they would accept a student’s SAT score if it were below the typically acceptable score.

The adversity score was meant to help inform the college admissions process so that well-rounded and deserving students would get a chance to get into higher education despite potentially low SAT scores. However, shortly after the College Board made the change, it saw a widespread wave of backlash from parents and university officials.

Critics argue that people working in college admissions offices could use SAT adversity scores as a way to illegally weed out potential students who aren’t of a high enough social class or who have other undesirable characteristics. Unfair assumptions may be made about students’ intelligence, future success in classes, ability to pay for college, and more, all based on that one score.

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“Someone can take that information and really use it for wrong to say, ‘Wow, this student comes from this kind of community and area, they might not be a good fit for our school,'” says Zenia Henderson of the National College Access Network.

Many parents also complained that a single number couldn’t possibly capture a student’s entire story. To them, the adversity score was an oversimplification of the real-life challenges their children had faced and wouldn’t be a fair representation of students’ achievements, skills, and determination.

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In light of these critiques, the College Board has decided to drop the adversity score from the SAT. College Board CEO David Coleman stated in an interview with NPR that attempting to boil such complex information down into one number was indeed problematic and that the decision had been reversed.

However, the board does wish to make it clear that they’ve never been in the business of putting a “score” on adversity. “The College Board scores achievement, not adversity,” says Coleman.

In place of the adversity score, the College Board has launched a tool called Landscape, which gives college admissions counselors more information on students’ backgrounds. Information will be provided, but there will be no score, so no student’s information will be ranked above another’s.

Do you think the Landscape tool will fix the problem? We appreciate that the new system doesn’t oversimplify the students’ diverse histories, but we can see how there might still be a problem with admissions counselors discriminating against students based on social class and other factors. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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