SAT: The College Board's New Adversity Score

Check out our latest interview with MarketWatch about the new “Adversity Score” (officially it’s called the “Environmental Context Dashboard”) that has been announced by the College Board, makers of the SAT. We had an interesting conversation. Here are some things we discussed:

It's helpful to remember that colleges are the ultimate customers of the College Board, not the students. And students DO NOT get to see their own adversity scores!

And neither students nor colleges get to see the weighted algorithm that generates the score. The College Board is keeping that a secret. The admissions process needs more transparency, not less.

Because the score is derived from a secret algorithm that factors in things like neighborhood, education, income, and crime data from the US Census, it will also shift more burden on recommenders and on applicants to explain how a (guessed at!) adversity score might deviate from reality, e.g. even fancy zip codes can include kids from difficult backgrounds (foster kids, single parent households, etc.). You can see the list of all the factors the College Board includes (but not how they are weighted) here, but note that although they show you what a sample “dashboard” looks like, you — the student—won’t be able to see your own dashboard.

We understand why the College Board is concerned about market share in a world where they compete against the ACT and more colleges are going test-optional altogether. But... the big problem we have with this "adversity score" is that the College Board is trying to stoke business and cover their data-driven sins with... more data. We completely understand that socioeconomic status/race/gender distorts the test's validity, but this is not the solution. It creates a veneer of precision and of data-driven objectivity for data that may be statistically sound for a cohort, but can be completely off for individual students.

Colleges already have access to much of this data through the application, and we can see how having a score and a "dashboard" can be more efficient for the admissions officer. Our hope is that admissions officers will continue to add some squishy, subjective allowances on a case-by-case basis as part of their holistic review. But given the time constraints in reading and assessing files, this dashboard/score might be a tempting shortcut to save time.

Stay tuned…