Adversity Score Faces Adversity

Posted by on Sep 6, 2019 in Education

From celebrity parents bribing admissions officials, to debates over whether or not to consider race in admissions, it may seem like the rules for how to get accepted into the nation’s top universities are constantly shifting. One of the most controversial admission tools is standardized testing. Recently, the College Board–the company that administers the SAT–tried to take steps to make the test fairer, but it dialed back these efforts after receiving widespread pushback from the public. Here, btw takes a closer look.

A mixed race teenage girl is taking a high school standardized test in class. She looks down and works on the test.
How many standardized tests have you taken to prepare for possible college admission? Credit: FatCamera/Getty Images

What’s Wrong with the Test?

In June, btw examined some of the flaws and biases inherent in the standardized testing process. Basically, the original goal of standardized tests is to level the playing field for college admissions. Different high school teachers grade differently, and some students take harder classes than others, so grades alone may not tell the whole story of someone’s success as a student. But if every student in the whole country takes the same test, it will be a more fair and accurate assessment of their abilities as compared to their peers. Right?

Wrong. As it turns out, college entrance exams–such as the SAT and ACT–are known to have biases for many reasons. For example, a wealthy student growing up in a wealthy school district will have access to resources (such as technology, new textbooks, and private tutors) that a poor student growing up in a poor district won’t have. Wealthier students can also afford to take the tests many times to practice, whereas poor students may only be able to afford to take it once. All of this puts poor students at a huge disadvantage as compared to wealthier ones when taking their standardized tests.

What Can Be Done to Fix It?

This summer, the College Board announced that it had developed a way to score students that would take into account their background (such as the crime rate and poverty level where they grew up, their family structure and income, etc.) and then assign them extra points on the test accordingly. The College Board argued that this new scoring system, called the “adversity score,” would give credit to students for overcoming challenges and hardship, not just for being a good test-taker–which in the end, may be a greater indicator of future success than a single grade or test score could ever be.

Plan B

Parents, students, and high school guidance counselors pushed back against the new scoring system. They argued that it was impossible to reduce a student’s entire history to a single number. They also worried that college admissions officers would see a student’s high adversity score and then think twice about allowing someone with a challenging past into their university.

In response to the widespread public pushback, the College Board has created a new system, called Landscape. Landscape will provide admissions officers with the same information about students’ backgrounds, but without assigning the students an “adversity score.” Then it will be up to the admissions officers to decide how they want to factor in that information.

What Do You Think? In your opinion, is Landscape or the adversity score a more fair way to assess how a student’s background might impact his or her performance? Or should the College Board stay out of it and let entrance exam scores stand alone? Explain your point of view.