SAT to give students ‘adversity score’ to account for social, economic background

May 17, 2019, 1:56 a.m.

The College Board plans to roll out a new “adversity score” component of SAT results, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The metric aims to provide “environmental context” for student test scores and will be included as part of a broader Environmental Context Dashboard.

While college admissions offices would be able to see applicant’s adversity score, students themselves would not. The rating will not impact the main SAT score.

The Dashboard will consider factors revolving around students’ home and school life, such as area crime rates, median family income for the neighborhood and the percentage of students on a free or reduced-price lunch plan.

Following a pilot involving 50 colleges, the new metrics will be rolled out to 150 schools this year and even more in the future.

The College Board’s decision comes amid renewed discussion about the fairness of standardized testing, especially with regard to first-generation and/or low-income (FLI) students. Students from a higher socioeconomic status often have more access to standardized test preparation and tutoring resources than their FLI counterparts.

These discussions were recently reignited by the Varsity Blues college admissions scandals, wherein admits to various selective universities — including Stanford — were implicated in bribery schemes that involved cheating or changing scores on the SAT.

As of now, 13 of the 33 parents charged with involvement in the scandal have pleaded guilty. The scandal “points out a persistent inequity where wealthier families have advantages that other students from low income families just don’t,” College Board President Jeremy Singer told Yahoo Finance.

The “adversity score” addition comes against the backdrop of contested opinions over the consideration of race and class in college admissions decisions. A lawsuit alleging that Harvard discriminated against Asian-American applicants. Students for Fair Admissions, the group behind the lawsuit, claims that Harvard holds Asian-Americans to a higher standard in its admissions process and accuses Harvard’s use of a subjective “personal rating” as biased against Asian-American applicants.

The Environmental Context Dashboard will only take into consideration the data it pulls from the United States Census and the National Center for Education Statistics. It will not consider race as a factor, a decision which Connie Betterton, vice president for higher education access and strategy at the College Board, said makes the mechanism “superior” and “steeped in more research” than a similar program called Strivers that the College Board created in 1999, which optionally included race information.

The adversity rating will assign students a score from 1 to 100, with 50 considered average levels of adversity; higher scores signal that a student faced more adversity, while lower scores indicate privilege. The College Board has not chosen to share how it will calculate the score, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“The purpose is to get to race without using race,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, who previously worked for College Board.

One university that has already implemented the Environmental Context Dashboard is Yale. Jeremiah Quinlan, Yale’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, implemented the system as part of an attempt to increase the school’s socioeconomic diversity.

“This (adversity score) is literally affecting every application we look at,” Quinlan said. “It has been a part of the success story to help diversify our freshman class.”

Contact Richard Coca at richcoca ‘at

Richard Coca '22 has previously served as editor of The Grind for volume 258, managing editor of Satire in vol. 257, and CLIP Co-chair in vol. 255. He is majoring in Human Biology and minoring in Anthropology. Contact him at rcoca 'at'

Login or create an account