SAT 'adversity score': Is it necessary?

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What's happening: About 2 million aspiring college students take the SAT every year, and soon their results will include more than whether they correctly answered the test questions. The College Board, which runs the SAT, announced it will start giving a new metric to colleges that provides context for a student's educational and socioeconomic background. The number — widely being referred to as an "adversity score" — will consider factors about a student's neighborhood and school, such as average income level, crime rate and education level.

This new metric is intended to add more information to a raw SAT score, which "doesn't measure what you've overcome," College Board CEO David Coleman said. The scores are generalized to all students from a certain area, available only to colleges and do not directly consider race.

Why there's debate: The methods colleges use to decide admissions has been a longstanding source of heated debate. Court cases involving affirmative action and the recent bribery scandal have sparked arguments about fairness, bias and inequality.

The adversity score attempts to address achievement gaps without wading into fraught and often legally precarious waters of race in college admissions. As a whole, wealthier students do better on the SAT than poor students. The "adversity score" could be used to counterbalance societal factors that depress the scores of children from lower-income backgrounds.

Opponents of the metric say it gives unfair advantage to underprivileged groups and will punish deserving students who come from more stable environments.

Others have begun to consider whether the SAT should be required at all. There is evidence, some say, that the test is fundamentally biased and a poor predictor of future student success.

What's next: The College Board made the adversity score available to 50 colleges in 2018 and has expanded to 150 schools for this year's fall admissions. The score is expected to be broadly available to schools by 2020.

Meanwhile, a growing number of colleges are choosing to make the SAT optional. The cheating methods revealed in the recent admissions scandal may compel even more universities to follow suit.

Measurements that specifically avoid race may soon become the new standard for admissions decisions. A lawsuit brought by Asian students against Harvard University that could lead to the end of racially based admissions considerations is currently making its way through the courts.


The College Board is misleading the public about the purpose of the adversity score

"Proponents should acknowledge that their chief interest is not merit, but social justice. 'Diversity is so important to our schools and to broader society that lowering standards is a worthy price to pay,' they should declare." — Jason Richwine, National Review

The adversity score is built on bad math

"There are too many holes in the College Board’s initiative for us to give it a passing grade. The board hasn’t fully explained its methodology for calculating its 'overall disadvantage level,' and how much weight it gives to each of the factors that play into that score. Are those factors the best indicators of a student’s environmental hardships? Who knows." — Editorial, Chicago Tribune

A generalized metric is a poor way of judging an individual's adversity level

"The addition of adversity scoring offers only a cosmetic solution. Assigning a statistically based impersonal score says nothing about the individual. If the applicant is homeless but the majority of her peers are not, this does not count towards the applicant’s adversity score." — Ava Woychuk-Mlinac, The Hill

"No two lives are commensurate and not all adversity can be taken into account. But the College Board is attempting to dictate which forms matter and which do not." — Thomas Chatterton Williams, New York Times

Adversity scores don't address the wealth inequality behind the achievement gap

"Test score differences are a symptom of systemic discrimination, which robs black and brown communities of wealth-building opportunities. … We should be trying to level the playing field by providing historically disenfranchised people opportunities to build wealth rather than retrofitting test results around inequality." — Andre M. Perry, Brookings Institution

Revising the test is a better solution

"If the test is supposed to be a level playing field, and it actually isn’t, then why not rewrite the test instead of creating a new measure to travel with it." — Peter Greene, Forbes

A metric that ignores race will not address the achievement gap

"Absent from the College Board's calculations of adversity are the ones that are at the seething center of the affirmative action wars: Race and ethnicity." — Jeff Yang, CNN

Fairness means judging students on their scores alone

"This is a pure inversion of the intent the SAT. From the first day, the whole point of the test was that your background didn’t matter. It was devised to create as level a playing field as possible." — Tucker Carlson, Fox News

Numbers come up short in defining adversity

"It’s a noble goal and an appealing premise: that algorithms—orderly, objective, unburdened by bias or history—can solve problems we humans can’t. But these systems are only as good as the metrics that feed their calculations." — Sidney Fussell, The Atlantic

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