Asher Montgomery

College Board recently decided to cancel the plan to include an adversity score on the SAT. The score was created to provide context to a student’s score regarding their disadvantages due to socioeconomic status.

Did we need the SAT adversity score?

October 2, 2019

The SAT adversity score was just a number

The CollegeBoard recently announced that it will not be carrying out its plan to include an “adversity score” on the SAT. The score was created to provide context to a student’s score regarding their disadvantages due to socioeconomic status. The makers of the SAT have been developing the plan for an adversity index for years in a well-meaning but flimsy attempt to even the playing field for standardized test-takers.
Although the adversity score was a start in a long journey to fairness for disadvantaged students, it’s for the best that the plan was not adopted.
Numerous factors – 31 to be exact – were to be used to calculate a student’s adversity score, but they fell into two major categories: a student’s neighborhood and a student’s school. By only considering the area where a student lives, the College Board ignores an individual student’s struggles or socioeconomic factors. A student from a high-income family attending a school in a low-income area or vice versa could receive an adversity score that is not reflective of them or their financial situation. Without using data that is individualized to each student, an adversity score tells colleges almost nothing about that person’s background, rendering the whole score pointless.
However, the way the score is calculated is not the only issue at hand here. Any singular number on a score report that claims to embody all of an individual’s struggles based solely on their socioeconomic status is questionable to say the least. A single score cannot possibly represent the adversity students face in their lives nor can it equalize such an imbalanced playing field. Disadvantaged students face a poorer quality of education, fewer resources and opportunities, and in some cases a total lack of financial support. Many students can’t even afford to retake the SAT more than once or pay for tutoring/test prep. Even worse, many have had their opportunities limited since the moment they set foot in kindergarten. How can the College Board — or anyone — claim to condense all of that into one “adversity score?”
The score is certainly a step in the right direction for many educational institutions and the first of its kind. However, the SAT adversity score is not sufficient to provide context to a student’s scores, and, therefore, is limited in its capacity to equalize the scores for standardized test-takers. In an education system that can implicitly favor those from a higher socioeconomic status, students need more than a score.

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The adversity score was a good idea

Even in 2019, people don’t start on equal footing. Although this shouldn’t be the case, growing up, people are going to have advantages or disadvantages depending on their socioeconomic status and their race. Those factors need to be acknowledged so that when it comes to getting into college they aren’t at a disadvantage there as well.
According to College Board, the company that runs the SAT, admission officers lack high school information of about 25% of applications. The adversity score would change that.
The adversity score and index were designed for admission officers to see students’ academic accomplishments in the context of where they live and go to school. It doesn’t provide any personal information about a specific student, only about the environment around them and how their score relate.
Reflected in the adversity index of a school and community are things such as the percentage of students at the school who are eligible for free or reduced lunch, educational status and economic challenges. The SAT has previously has been criticized because wealthier students on average earn higher scores than the middle class who in turn score higher than the lower class. As it is widely regarded intelligence test used for college acceptances, it is the responsibility of College Board to provide economic information of students so that the test isn’t unfair for students of lower classes.
Yes, the entirety of a student’s background cannot be reduced effectively to a single number, however, with nothing like the adversity score present, colleges will still have little to no information about a student’s high school and residence, meaning the uneven playing field will remain uneven for students of low economic status.
With some changes made, the adversity score could be a useful tool for colleges to have and beneficial for disadvantaged students.

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