Dear College Board, You Can’t Place A Score On Adversity
Image Credits: MARIO TAMA/GETTY IMAGES
When I was in high school, I worked incredibly hard. My family did not have college funds for me. I was not a star-athlete and I did not have any incredible artistic talent. Knowing that to get into college and, more importantly, to pay my way through college, I would have to be an all-star in academics, I took advantage of any and all opportunities to further my education, whether that was through honors programs, AP classes, or partnerships with local colleges. When in my junior year it came time to take the SAT, my preparation paid off. I scored a 1440, something I have no problem being quite proud of.
Recently, the College Board announced that they plan to begin assigning each student that takes the SAT an “adversity score,” attempting to capture that student’s “social and economic background.” Furthermore, students won’t be able to see their own scores – just the colleges that receive their applications. This announcement launches us even further into the debate surrounding race and class being involved in college admissions. Many universities argue that diversity is a key part of their mission. They use factors like race, class, etc., to help promote this diversity. I’m extremely supportive of schools having diverse populations, where students of different backgrounds and beliefs can interact and learn from each other. However, should the goal of a diverse campus be relevant in the admissions process?
The new “adversity score” evaluates a student’s background from a variety of factors. They factor in neighborhood environment (crime rate, poverty rate, housing values, vacancy rate), family environment (median income, single parent, education level, ESL), and high school environment (undermatching, curricular rigor, free lunch rate, AP opportunity). For more detailed information on these factors and the evaluation process, you can view this report released by the College Board when they first began testing these policies in 2016. The average score is a 50. A higher score indicates more adversity, while a lower score indicates privilege.
The biggest question this evaluation process raises is how you can place a score on adversity. How do you quantify hardship? Does difficulty only develop from the environment you grew up in? There are numerous other experiences that could make a student’s high school experience more difficult – family health issues, addiction, mental illness, etc. Does their score accurately capture that adversity? Take me, for example. I’m a young, white woman from a middle-class family, and I grew up with both parents in the household. Honors and AP classes were readily available for me. However, I also spent my last two years of high school in and out of treatment centers for mental illness. I attended around 60 percent of school-days in those two years. It was immensely challenging. I still managed, through hard work and dedication and lots of support, to graduate on-time, in the top five percent of my class. Furthermore, depending on what is considered your “neighborhood,” you could say my area has an extremely high crime rate when in reality, a small portion of my city has a high crime rate, while the surrounding areas are much safer. This all goes to say: College Board, you can’t place a score on adversity. You don’t get to decide how much difficulty I’ve gone through.
Aside from the clear issues with the calculation process for this “adversity score,” many argue that socioeconomic background, race, or gender have no place in the college admissions process. Rather, it should be based on merit alone. Should we generate diversity on college campuses, or should we allow the most deserving, most high-achieving students to be admitted? Although this new “adversity score” does not include race as a factor, even a former College Board director said that “‘Its purpose is to get to race without using race.’” This new policy is more affirmative action hidden in a new, calculated score. Should colleges be judging potential students as part of a group or as individuals? I would like to be viewed as an individual. No, I am not my circumstances. I am not my neighborhood, my race, my gender, or my high school.
The College Board seems continually determined to evaluate students’ performance based on comparison to those around them. In the past they have tried to contextualize SAT scores through an initiative called the “Strivers” program. In this program, a student’s score was essentially compared to others students’ scores from the same socioeconomic background. If their score was 200 points higher than the predicted score (based on background), they were labeled a “Striver.” With this program, there was no universal expectation. If you’re from an area where the expected score is 800 and you get a 1000, great! But by this standard, if you score a 1400 where the expected score is a 1350, it isn’t as impressive. This program and the new “adversity score” have the same goal of taking a possibly unimpressive SAT score using other factors to justify the score, or even suggest that the score is actually fairly impressive. David Coleman, chief executive of the College Board said, “‘There are a number of amazing students who may have scored less [on the SAT] but have accomplished more.’” True, accomplishment goes far beyond one test score, but this can be represented through extracurriculars, work experience, and personal essays. If the purpose of a university is to provide an education, then admission to those schools should be based almost solely on academics. Why any other factors other than my intelligence and hard-work should determine whether or not I am accepted to a selective university is beyond me.
One main criticism of the SAT is that there are disparities in scores based on wealth. Some suggest that this undermines the ability of the test to fairly assess academic ability. A former university president that writes for Forbes has a simple solution that many have offered before: don’t require students to take them.
Who would this new College board policy help, and who would it harm? It would certainly benefit students from lower-income communities. However, the director of a college counseling group that primarily serves students from affluent and mostly white communities north of Chicago points out that is will most definitely harm the high-achieving and hard-working students from these regions. Regardless of their SAT score, their “adversity score” could work against them. I don’t care your race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status. The most accomplished, prepared, and intelligent students deserve spots in top universities.
Truly, a score of 1440 is a score of 1440, regardless of who it is earned by. Just because the difficulties I went through don’t have a place on your ranking system doesn’t mean that they didn’t affect me. I still endured them, and I still overcame them. My academic achievements cannot be brushed aside because of my race or economic status. I worked hard for my grades and test scores. Please, preserve the integrity of these academic institutions. Give every student a fair evaluation, based on the things they have done, not who they are. Don’t allow college admissions to devolve into a system based on race, class, or gender, and not on merit.
Dear College Board, my accomplishments don’t mean any less because of factors I have no control over. You can’t place a score on what I have overcome.
Riley is a college student currently working towards a degree in Chemistry. Eventually, she’d like to go to med school. She enjoys writing about politics and advocating for better understanding of mental illness. When she isn’t studying, you can find her baking, singing, playing piano, reading, or spending way too much time on Pinterest.