New SAT 'Adversity Score' Comes as Pressure Grows to Ditch the Test Altogether

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May 28, 2019

By Rebecca Heilweil

To better account for the social context of college applicants, the College Board is providing colleges with "adversity scores" that will be included alongside their SAT scores.

The College Board is expanding the program ー called the Environmental Context Dashboard ー to 150 schools from the original pilot 50. All schools that accept the SAT are expected to receive the score by 2020.

The news of the dashboard comes amid increasing skepticism toward standardized testing. More than 1,000 colleges and university undergraduate programs no longer require that applicants submit SAT or ACT scores, according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing.

News of the so-called "adversity score" quickly ignited controversy. Some have argued that boiling down adversity to a number is too simplistic and possibly offensive. Others say it's a Band-Aid for the larger problems that plague the SAT, and inadequately addresses concerns that standardized tests can measure access to privilege (such as the ability to afford extensive tutoring), rather than merit.

"Many critics are frustrated that it doesn't actually take into account the student's own personal experiences," Vanessa Didyk, the CEO of ZeeMee, a social platform for connecting colleges and students, told Cheddar. "It will look at median household income. It'll look at crime statistics for the neighborhood. But it's not going to look at an individual student's household income, or race, even."

"How can you boil down a student's experience into a single number?," she said, adding, "this is a big moment of the College Board acknowledging that the test itself is unfair."

The dashboard, the College Board says, is meant to "show how a student's SAT score compares to those of other students in their school." For instance, a student from a low-income neighborhood and a school that offers few advanced opportunities that achieves a 1900 might have overcome more than a student with the same score who comes from a more affluent neighborhood with more advanced opportunities.

Though it's based on 31 factors, the dashboard is not individualized, meaning that all students who live in a particular neighborhood, and attend a particular school, would likely receive the same or similar scores. Race is not included.

Another objection has been that students cannot access their own scores. "That lack of transparency is absolutely concerning. How are students supposed to know where they're ranking?" said Didyk. The College Board has said that it's considering sharing the scores, but has not done so yet.

"We absolutely believe it's time to think outside the test," said Didyk. "Give a student other opportunities to share more about their lives, and the context of their lives."