SAT Adds 'Adversity Score' To Rate Student Hardships

The College Board, the company behind the SAT exams, announced that it will assign a score that will take into account students’ social and economic background.

The adversity score, which uses a scale of one through 100, will rate a student’s level of disadvantage by using 15 factors — including information on the student’s school, and data on their neighborhood’s crime rate and poverty level. The College Board said the Environmental Context Dashboard (ECD) will include information from the US Census and the National Center for Education Statistics, but will not include the student’s race. The rating will be reported to college admissions officials as part of a package of data on each student.

“The Environmental Context Dashboard shines a light on students who have demonstrated remarkable resourcefulness to overcome challenges and achieve more with less,” David Coleman, chief executive of the College Board, said in a statement to The North Star. “It enables colleges to witness the strength of students in a huge swath of America who would otherwise be overlooked.” Coleman said there is talent and potential in all communities, including low-income rural families, children “navigating the challenges of life in the inner city,” and military families. “No single test score should ever be examined without paying attention to this critical context,” he said.

The ECD was piloted at 50 colleges and universities, including Yale, Florida State University, and Trinity College. According to the Wall Street Journal, the College Board plans to expand the rating to 150 institutions in the fall and more broadly in 2020.

“It is a great tool that I think helped us identify kids who have overcome significant contextual adversity in a very race-neutral way and a very data-driven way,” Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid at Yale, told the Yale Daily News. “It really helped drive home more of the contextual background on some students.”

Quinlan told the Wall Street Journal that about 20 percent of newly admitted students at Yale are low-income and first-generation college students. This is nearly double its previous population and part of a push to increase socioeconomic diversity on campus. Dr. Carl Brigham, the brains behind the SATs, initially created the standardized test in a bid to exclude immigrants and minorities from attending Ivy Leagues, The Daily Beast reported, while former Harvard President James Bryant Conant helped popularize the SATs as a method of expanding the Ivy League's standard pool of elite students. According to author Nicholas Lemann, Conant feared that intelligent students would be lost because they did not come from privilege and therefore did not have access to higher education. Ultimately, the test opened the doors to higher ed for millions of Jews, Eastern Europeans, as well as Black people, Hispanics, and Asians.

The new tool comes as colleges grapple with the best way to bring in a more diverse class of students to their campuses. There have been concerns that the SAT — which tests math and verbal knowledge — gives an advantage to those in wealthier families with better resources. Still, white students scored an average of 177 points higher than Black students and 133 points higher than Hispanic students in 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported. Asian students, however, scored higher than white students by 100 points. Students with wealthy, college-educated parents routinely perform better than their classmates.

“There are a number of amazing students who may have scored less [on the SAT] but have accomplished more,” Coleman told the Wall Street Journal. “We can’t sit on our hands and ignore the disparities of wealth reflected in the SAT.”

The new scoring system has been criticized by many who worry that it will add another measurement students have to overcome somehow. Hafeez Lakhani, a college admissions coach in New York, told The New York Times that he has received panicked emails from parents concerned that their children’s preparation for the SAT “would be completely negated just because we happen to have some means.”

Lakhani argued that colleges were already being proactive about considering adversity, pointing to increasing numbers of low-income and first-generation students being accepted.

College admissions were recently rocked by a scandal involving celebrities and wealthy families across the US. Fifty people have been charged for fraudulently getting more time on ACT or SAT exams, having someone take exams for students or changing test answers.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.