On May 16, 2019, the maker of the SAT (The College Board) announced that it would be adding an additional score to the three scores that currently make up an SAT score report: Math, Reading/Writing, and the optional Essay.
The fourth score would not be based on student performance. Rather, it would be implemented as part of what The College Board calls the “Environmental Context Dashboard,” which would assess factors like educational or socioeconomic challenges to place a student’s test performance into context. In short, an adversity score.
The adversity score, which has already been tested by 50 colleges, will be officially implemented by 150 colleges in 2019 and all colleges by 2020. The score, which is comprised of a number between 1 and 100, measures 15 different factors in assessing a student’s background.
Educational factors include class size at a student’s school and availability of AP classes.
Socioeconomic factors, which would in part be obtained through U.S. census records, include poverty levels and crime rates in a student’s neighborhood. An “average student” would receive a score of 50. According to The College Board, this score is designed to help colleges identify students who have used “resourcefulness to overcome challenges and achieve more with less.”
Historically, The College Board has stirred up heated debate and controversy with any changes it has made to the SAT. This latest has already raised questions of fairness and lack of transparency. One major issue is the fact that students are not allowed to see the adversity score that will accompany their score report. Another is that The College Board does not plan to provide more than a general outline of the factors that will generate the adversity score. Opponents also object to a definition of adversity that may take into account certain hardships and not others.
Parents with means are worried that the adversity score will put their students at a significant disadvantage during the admissions process.
This is not necessarily the case.
Most industry experts agree that colleges already have various ways of assessing student adversity, including the applicant’s personal statement and letters of recommendation. Admissions readers are already expert at reading the demographics of an application, including the academic caliber of a particular school.
However, the introduction of the SAT adversity score does provide one significant lesson to the parents of advantaged students: colleges assume that students from certain demographics are being coached and tutored to take the test. This places students who have the means but do not prepare for the SAT at a significant disadvantage. Not only will such students likely have lower standardized test scores, but those scores will be read with the assumption that they represent a student’s best effort with test prep.
For parents of students with means, this may seem to be an unfair development. Unfortunately, trends in the college admissions process (and standardized testing protocol) have leaned heavily toward favoring under-represented and under-privileged students. For students who do not expect to gain any benefit from their SAT adversity score, the lesson is clear. Such students simply must score higher on the test itself.
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