SAT “Adversity Score” Replaced After Mounting Criticism

The College Board, the nonprofit organization that administers the SAT exam, has scuttled its controversial plan to include an “adversity score” on student test results after facing criticism from students, parents and educators.

The adversity score, originally announced last spring, aimed to quantify the level of hardship a student faced growing up by averaging two scores: one for the student’s school environment and the other for the student’s neighborhood environment. The official announcement was met with a wave of criticism, calling it an overreach by the College Board and an effort to score adversity the same way it does academic achievement.

The College Board decided to eliminate the single hardship score, part of a more extensive rating system called the Environmental Context Dashboard. It will rename the dashboard tool “Landscape.” The board also said that after this year, it would report school and neighborhood scores to students and families. This information is currently shown only to colleges — another aspect of the score that drew public criticism.

“I don’t think they executed well even if the intentions were good,” said Jenni Ruiz, Co-Director of College Counseling at GDS. Ruiz also pointed out another flaw in the adversity score, saying, “Regardless, colleges are still engaged in the process of understanding context of their applicants. But in the end, the more selective a college is, the more likely it will enroll students from the most affluent classes in society.”

 The adversity score’s replacement, Landscape, improves on flaws pointed out by critics, but it maintains the same base principle as the adversity score. The Landscape tool will provide admissions officers with information about the quality of the student’s high school and the relative affluence of the neighborhood. Additional neighborhood factors, such as college attendance, household structure, median family income, housing stability, education levels and crime are all considered as relevant data points, but Coleman said the data points will not be given a score.

The adversity score immediately became part of the debate over the fairness of college admissions. In the past year, federal prosecutors exposed a national college admissions cheating organization, where wealthy parents pled guilty to paying bribes to have their children’s test and sports credentials falsified.

David Coleman, chief executive of the College Board, said last week in a statement that the Board had heard the criticism and planned to address it. He said that the company had always believed that students should be judged by more than a number.

“I think it is a retreat from the notion that a single score is better,” Coleman said. “So in that sense, we’ve adopted a humbler position. That’s admitting that the College Board should keep its focus on scoring achievement. We have acknowledged that we have perhaps overstepped. 

“The College Board scores achievement, not adversity,” Coleman said. 

It is unclear how the new way of scoring hardship will affect GDS students, many of whom come from affluent families and neighborhoods.

 Coleman defended the overall goal of the tool. The thinking, he said, was that if a student overcame economic or other challenges, that information should be known by colleges. Admissions officers lack high school information on about 25 percent of applications, according to the College Board, and the goal of the new tool is to provide this information.

Will Olsen ’21