College Board Made The Right Decision In Removing Its ‘Adversity Score’



Alberto Garcia Perez

If put in place, the adversity score would have been attached to students’ SAT scores.

The College Board recently announced it would scrap its controversial adversity score after widespread public backlash. The adversity score, announced in May, would have been a number between one and 100 denoting a student’s hardships by compiling government-collected data on the school and neighborhood of the student. The data would include statistics like the number of AP classes offered at a school and the average household income of a student’s neighborhood. This score would then be attached to the SAT results for colleges to view.

If implemented, the adversity score would have ended up hurting students, regardless of their socioeconomic background. As simply one number, the score would be unable to give any deeper context into the varying circumstances of students. For example, a student that came from a poor background but attended a wealthier boarding school would have a skewed score. This is because the score would have included both data on the boarding school and the student’s residence, showing artificially decreased adversity. These misrepresentations can be costly, considering that if colleges rely on this faulty information, they might turn away an applicant in favor of one that the score shows to have suffered more hardships.

Just as it would lack context, the adversity score would also fail to account for relevant personal information. Since the score would have only used publicly available data, struggles that a student may face beyond their socioeconomic status could easily be overlooked. Just one example of this would be a student with a speech deficiency. These students could face significant difficulties when taking the SAT or learning the material in the classroom that one number based on public data wouldn’t be able to account for. If a student came from an abusive household, the score wouldn’t be able to account for that either. Educators may not know about this issue, making it nearly impossible to accurately document it. Students who fit into these categories and more face struggles both at school and home outside of their socioeconomic status. The adversity score would have turned a blind eye to their struggles and put them at a disadvantage in the admissions process. While some may argue that these circumstances can be explained in other sections of a college application, it still stands to reason that colleges may put more value in the adversity score than the surrounding context provided by a student. Students would also have to use up valuable space in their application to explain this, rather than writing about their accomplishments.

The adversity score would have also lacked much-needed transparency. From when it was first proposed to when it was canceled, College Board was very clear that only colleges would have access to the score. The lack of transparency in this system would have interfered with students’ ability to ensure that a fair image of them was being offered to schools. In the case that a score misrepresented a student’s current situation, there would be no recourse available.

Especially considering that the announcement of the adversity score came after an extremely high profile college admissions scandal, College Board’s rush to reveal the score is very telling. It is doubtful that even with the adversity score, colleges would ever consider discontinuing legacy admissions, where colleges prefer applicants with family connections to alumni, or the practice of admitting students from more well-connected families. As long as this is true, it’s absurd that colleges would have found the adversity score helpful or used it as it would have disrupted these admissions practices and, as a result, donations to the college. A more likely purpose for the adversity score was to simply act as a smokescreen. After all, the College Board is a company that remains dependent on the relevance of its products, and with people beginning to question the fairness of the SAT, colleges are already beginning to stop requiring applicants to take the test. If the College Board wanted to continue making money from the SAT, they would have needed to make a change to reassure people and colleges of its relevance. This change would have been the adversity score, had it not become more controversial and damaging to the SAT’s public image than College Board expected.

From its inception, the adversity score was riddled with severe defects that would have ended up hurting the students it was meant to help. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the College Board terminated the score almost as quickly as they created it, considering its primary purpose was as a PR tool. That said, regardless of the reason for doing so, we should all be thankful that the College Board scrapped the damaging score.