The college admissions is abuzz with news of a new data point College Board has been testing for student score reports. No, the SAT won’t feature any new question types, content areas, or sections anytime soon. In fact, this metric not only resists conventional forms of test preparation but also sets a standard that would have most families chasing the lowest scores possible.
Meet the College Board’s new adversity score.
Officially called the Environmental Context Dashboard, the adversity score is meant to quantify the challenges students face at home, in school, and in their neighborhoods. The current tool takes 15 factors into account, ranging from neighborhood poverty level and crime rates to high school class size and family stability. The full range of factors and how they are weighted and calculated are currently unknown. These scores, scaled from 1-100 with higher values signaling greater hardship, will only be available to colleges, which means students won’t know their own adversity calculations.
Why consider adversity at all in college admissions? Critics of testing like to point out the advantages of wealth in test preparation, as if access to expert coaching, targeted remediation, and safe, supportive conditions weren’t linked to enhanced performance in just about every academic, athletic, and artistic endeavor. Instead, David Coleman, CEO of College Board, points out a different way to consider how adversity shapes teens:
“The big news here is by looking at SAT scores and that data together, you reveal a third thing, which is resourcefulness. What have you done given those disadvantages and what have you made of them?”
College Board has just begun testing adversity scores, with 50 colleges in last year’s beta test and an expanded pool coming up. The organization hopes to fully implement the score for every student taking the SAT in 2020.
Obviously, the idea of quantifying adversity and including that data in college admissions decisions has elicited a range of responses. Any effort to expand access for disadvantaged students to higher education deserves serious consideration. However, an issue this charged—complicated by the involvement of the often controversial College Board—raises many questions:
- Is it fair to hide measurements of student adversity from the students themselves?
- Is socioeconomic diversity a proxy for racial diversity? Is one preferable to the other in college admissions?
- What unexpected consequences and exploits will arise from efforts to game adversity scores?
- How will the inclusion of adversity scores impact applicants with average and below-average scores?
- Will colleges that prioritize adversity scores in admissions provide additional resources to support disadvantaged students?
- Considering College Board’s penchant for withholding important information, is this the right organization to deliver this score? Will this effort compromise College Board’s other tests or larger mission?
- What will happen if, after study, colleges find that adversity scores are about as helpful as SAT essay scores, which is to say not helpful at all?
- Will these scores integrate research uncovering the specific adversity that teens in affluent families face?
We are only beginning to learn about the Environmental Context Dashboard, how this metric will be calculated and evaluated, and what impact the addition of adversity scores will have on the greater college admissions landscape. As these original questions are answered, new ones will surely arise. With hope, though, this process—and the authentic commitment of all the stakeholders involved—will lead to greater inclusion, opportunity, and success for students at every level of society.