College Board “adversity” scoring policy

Ryan Eastep and Charlotte Cebula

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Ryan Eastep:

The new adversity score is the wrong answer to the right question.  First of all, it’s important to contextualize every application and its contents in order to fully understand an applicant’s qualifications. That said, a singular score on a scale of 1-100 is extremely surface level and does little to address the actual contrast between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Sure, the schools which students attend does matter and impact quantities like standardized test scores. However, this new adversity score doesn’t even begin to address one of the biggest factors that truly separates students’ scores from one another: outside test prep.

There’s an ongoing notion that “if you can afford test prep, you probably took it,” and the new adversity score is extremely shallow in this regard. “Privileged” students, like myself, who did not want to spend thousands of dollars on top-tier tutors and never had the advantage of test prep, are now going to be punished further for something out of their control. That’s where the bulk of the problem lies. I’ve never had the benefit of a standardized test tutor, yet my scores are taken into account with the assumption that I had one.

The adversity score doesn’t just frustrate me and other students like myself.  It’s also very frustrating for hard-working parents with aspirations for their children, knowing that something like the new adversity score could work in their children’s favor had they been less successful, thus putting their kids in a better position for the college process.  My mother comes from an underprivileged background, and because she worked incredibly hard to get herself to the position she is in today, my “adversity score” will suffer.

Despite the adversity score, people are undoubtedly going to find a way to take advantage of the system. The college process has rarely gone years without some sort of scandal or general dishonesty issues, and to me, this new adversity score just seems like another way for some to further strengthen their applications, whether they really deserve it or not.  Nothing is stopping a student from filling out a different zip code, address, or reported family income, all of which could easily swing their adversity score whichever way they please.  And it’s truly unfortunate that things are this way – the adversity score could be a great way to further exemplify the troubles faced by students throughout their lives, both at school and at home.  But doesn’t that naturally come out through application supplements, basic information, and essays? Why does there need to be such a definitive, pseudoscientific value placed on top of everything?

Realistically, the Common Application just needs places for students to fill out if they’ve gone through high school with tutoring, extra time, or anything that actually affects what they’re sending to colleges. Remember, context is always important in the college process – but this new adversity score just is a sad and frustrating abomination in the making.

Charlotte Cebula

If you have ever been on a college tour, you have probably heard the sentence “we read your applications holistically.” Essentially, this means that college admissions officers look at  your application in the context of your opportunities, without comparing you to students from other schools which have different structures or funding. In theory, ‘adversity’ scoring by the College Board does the same.

My two biggest takeaways from this new method are the following: it will probably not be particularly different from how admissions are determined now, and it is the College Board’s way of admitting that the tests are inherently flawed. Initially, the headlines about a “separate SAT score” based off of factors unrelated to the test seemed daunting.

As a junior going through the college process, the unpredictability of a standardized score only added to the natural stress of the situation. Is my score really my score? After more research, however, my opinion changed, and I began to focus more heavily on broader questions regarding the legitimacy value of standardized testing.

The adversity index streamlines public information and data provided by the applicant. In effect, this will make the admission officers’ jobs a little faster when reviewing an application in context. An applicant gives a home address, zip code, and school name when applying to college. With a quick internet search, an admissions officer has access to the information to preview their applicant’s home situation. Yes, the 100-point-scale index makes all the information accessible on one page, but the index itself is not a novelty.

By including a separate score to explain the initial score out of 1600, the College Board is really conceding that its tests are not, in fact, the great equalizers of the college process. If the standardized test needs a new algorithm to re-standardize it, perhaps the test itself needs reform.

I don’t believe that the new adversity index will affect me greatly, and I am lucky to say so. Given the education I have received at Horace Mann and the benefits that come with the school, I will not need a new adversity number to explain my original score. But for the countless other students across the country, the uncertainty of their score could have negative repercussions on their admissions. Unless the test itself is changed to be more reflective of a student’s capabilities rather than their ability to prepare for every variation of a question, I suspect that there will be little change.

The adversity index has only led me to further questions and uncertainty. I can only hope that the College Board’s attempts to ameliorate their system prove to be helpful in creating a fair approach to college admissions, but given the information I have, it seems like they should take a more radical tact. I hope to see a future where college admissions and test scores are truly fair, not governed by society’s deep socioeconomic divide.