College Board says adversity context rewards resourcefulness

Carolyn Thompson
Associated Press

Administrators of the SAT college admissions exam on Friday detailed plans to provide test scores in the context of a student’s high school hardships as a way to help colleges identify resourceful students they might otherwise overlook.

The College Board said the “Environmental Context Dashboard” being piloted at 50 colleges uses a combination of data points and sources to assign a disadvantage level to be considered along with the test’s academic results.

Neighborhood factors like median family income, crime rate and education level of residents are factored in, along with high school traits like geography, the size of the senior class, the percentage of households with food stamps and the advanced course offerings. The dashboard also shows a student’s SAT score in relation to classmates. It does not consider race.

A high score indicating more adversity could help offset less than stellar academic scores.

College Board Chief Executive David Coleman described the project to The Associated Press in March as a way to level the playing field for students who don’t have the same access to advantages like private tutors and college-level classes as more affluent peers.

The College Board, which began offering free online test preparation several years ago, expects to make the dashboard broadly available to colleges for free next year.

“Free test prep was a good step but the wealth inequality … is so profound that we have to go further,” Coleman said.

But plans for the so-called “adversity score” seem to have done little to sway opponents of SAT and ACT scores in college admissions, which have faced renewed scrutiny in the wake of the recent “Varsity Blues” cheating scandal in which authorities say wealthy parents bribed coaches and rigged entrance exams to game the admissions system.

Bob Schaeffer, who leads National Center for Fair & Open Testing, said the addition of the dashboard “concedes that the SAT is really a measure of ‘accumulated advantage’ which should not be used without an understanding of a student’s community or background.”

“Schools do not need the SAT or ACT – with or without ‘adversity scores’ – to make high-quality admissions decisions that promote equity and excellence,” he said in a statement.

Most U.S. colleges still require standardized test scores from applicants, but in recent years the list of institutions that no longer ask for them has grown to about 1,000, according to Schaeffer’s group. Administrators cite efforts to promote equity and diversity applicant pools.

Last year, about 2.1 million students took the SAT, and about 1.9 million took the ACT.