A Project for Better Journalism chapter

SAT’s diversity scores will do more harm than good

  Surrounded by family members at her kitchen table, a high school senior rips open an envelope from her first-choice college. She has a 3.8 GPA and scored 1380 on the SAT, above her school’s average scores of 3.5 and 1230.

  On the other side of the state, a boy holds a similar envelope from the same college. He has a 3.4 GPA and scored 1220, above his school’s averages of 2.9 and 910.

  He got in. She didn’t.

  The SAT is changing—quickly. The College Board will attempt to score students not only on math and language skills but also on socioeconomic situations. The “adversity scores” will account for educational, economic, and personal backgrounds to separate the “privileged” from the “underprivileged.” Rising underclassmen could feel these effects as soon as next year.

  Adversity scoring will affect college applications—and not positively. The College Board’s latest creation raises three primary problems.

The De-standardization of Standardized Tests

  I know–high schoolers hate sitting for stressful, difficult three-hour exams. But before you start cheering for the demise of standardized tests, think about the repercussions.

  The exams provide a common measurement tool for all students.  Dee Lohman, a former school administrator, said, “Of course the tests are not all colleges look for in applications; they are just one portion of a larger picture. However, the objectivity of standardized tests does allow colleges to more easily compare applicants.” They take away all other factors and focus strictly on what academic skills you have, assessing your readiness for college.

  Standardized tests add balance to college applications by measuring academic performance objectively. Essays, resumes, and recommendations add individuality to an application; the exams themselves are equal academic playing fields. They do not account for individuality for a reason. Adversity scores will force colleges to compare completely different candidates with no standard measurement tool. That is like comparing dry ice to a dry erase marker—impossible.

Corruption and Secrecy

  What adversity score will the College Board report to your colleges? How will admissions officers use them? How will the College Board compute them? Excellent questions, but we do not have the answers. The College Board will not show students their adversity scores. The entire system is hidden behind college admissions and the not-for-profit organization. All we know is that a score of 50 or higher constitutes “underprivileged.”

  Since a curtain separates students from their scores, how can we know that the College Board’s calculations do not benefit one ethnicity or region over another? How can we know that students receive a score reflecting their lives? We cannot. The adversity score’s secrecy allows for rampant corruption within admissions and inconsistency in score calculations–factors which could affect your ability to get into your dream school.

They Solve Nothing

  Even if the College Board’s adversity scores work perfectly, they will not solve socioeconomic achievement gaps. Standardized tests assess a student’s readiness for college; if a student gets into a college based solely on adversity scoring, she is likely not prepared for that college and might fail out. In these cases, adversity scoring has no effect on higher-level achievement gaps.

  “If we truly want to solve socioeconomic achievement gaps, we need to look into solving the root of issues. We need to focus on investing in schools and teachers,” Lohman explains. “Those would help students actually prepare for college.” Adversity scores offer a false path to diversity and student empowerment; analyzing a number instead of working to break down barriers is futile.