SAT to add ‘adversity score’ that rates students’ hardships

The score is intended to help admissions officers account for factors like educational or socioeconomic disadvantage that may depress students’ scores.

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The SAT, the college entrance test taken by about 2 million students a year, is adding an “adversity score” to the test results that is intended to help admissions officers account for factors like educational or socioeconomic disadvantage that may depress students’ scores, the College Board, the company that administers the test, said Thursday.

Colleges have long been concerned with scoring patterns on the SAT that seem unfavorable to certain socioeconomic groups: Higher scores have been found to correlate with students coming from a higher-income families and having better-educated parents.

David Coleman, chief executive of the College Board, has described a trial version of the tool, which has been field-tested by 50 colleges, in recent interviews. The plan to roll it out officially, to 150 schools this year and more broadly in 2020, was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

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The adversity score would be a number between 1 and 100, with an average student receiving a 50. It would be calculated using 15 factors, like the relative quality of the student’s high school and the crime rate and poverty level of the student’s home neighborhood. The score would not be reported to the student, only to college officials.

“We’ve got to admit the truth, that wealth inequality has progressed to such a degree that it isn’t fair to look at test scores alone,” Coleman recently told The Associated Press. “You must look at them in context of the adversity students face.”

The new tool could potentially give colleges a way of doing that. But at the same time, it could invite a backlash from more affluent families and from students who do well on the test and worry their adversity score will put them at a disadvantage.

The plan comes at a time when universities like Harvard, Yale, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Texas at Austin face challenges to their affirmative action policies, either in the courts or through federal investigations.

To address concerns about the fairness of standardized tests, a growing number of colleges have made it optional rather than mandatory for applicants to submit scores from the SAT or the other main standardized entrance test, the ACT.