Rigging the SAT in a Different Way

Is the College Board going to drop the "adversity score" from the test? Not really.

Lewis Morris · Aug. 29, 2019

The College Board, the not-for-profit college-prep group, has announced that it will dump the so-called “adversity score” from its Scholastic Aptitude Test. But instead of humbly admitting that the program was a farce and dropping the whole thing, the College Board is replacing the score with something called Landscape.

The original intent of the adversity score, which went public in May, was to give credit to students based on socioeconomic factors like neighborhood median incomes, crime rates, academic access, and so forth. This data was boiled down into a single number and shared with college admissions personnel who could use the data when considering applicants.

The adversity score was a complete failure. How could it be anything but? It presumed as fact previously debunked assumptions about the ties to a student’s academic abilities and their race or economic background. It also kept parents out of the decision loop; they had no knowledge what their child’s adversity score was.

The adversity score was also correctly perceived as an attempt by the College Board to boost interest in its flagship product. The SAT has shrunk in importance in recent years as colleges and universities are increasingly embracing a test-optional admissions process.

The new program, Landscape, will continue to compile and analyze socioeconomic data as before, but this time the results will be shared publicly. Making the data accessible and not scoring it doesn’t necessarily fix the problem, though.

College admissions is a stressful process for parents. These days, it is so competitive that parents will often go beyond their means and even morals to get their kids into the best college. This year’s Varsity Blues scandal couldn’t have happened at a better/worse time for those arguing over whether or how privilege and money affects higher education.

The problem with the College Board’s plan — call it adversity scoring or Landscape or whatever — is that it still games the system and reduces the role of merit in earning a college education. This can have a detrimental effect on a student’s academic life. If a student gets into a great school after growing up in a demilitarized zone and scores big, then it’s a success. But what about students who are put into academic situations above their ability because they fit a socioeconomic (read: racial) demographic?

Heather Mac Donald wrote about academic mismatch for City Journal: “Students admitted to a selective college with significantly weaker academic credentials than the school norm will, on average, struggle to keep up in their classes. Many will switch out of demanding majors like the STEM fields; a significant portion will drop out of college entirely. Had those artificially preferred students enrolled in a college for which they were academically prepared, like their non-preferred peers, they would have a much higher chance of graduating in their chosen field of study.”

The College application system is sorely in need of reform. Progress is more likely to be found by focusing on merit and giving students the academic resources they need than by determining where they go because of where they’re from.

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