The College Board’s new ‘Adversity Score’ is a concerning attempt to fix a broken system


Marco Rivero

The College Board has announced a new environmental context score

The College Board recently announced a new addition to their score reporting system in order to provide context to the scores of students. This system has been labeled as the “adversity score” by the media but the college board prefers to call it the Environmental Context Dashboard. This new score aims to provide, as the name states, a context of the life of the student to give a new perspective to their score. According to the College Board’s website, the dashboard will take into account various different factors of a students life to come up with a score of their “disadvantage level”. The same website claims that “ participants reported that they saw high value in the tool, with over 90% of users saying the Dashboard made it easier to incorporate contextual information and provided a more comprehensive view of the applicant,” this much is true with notable universities such as Yale University finding that the environmental context dashboard had allowed them to diversify their classes even more.

The concept of an “adversity score” is nothing new. In both the professional world and the educational world, more and more people have called for more of a spotlight to be put on the challenges people face. The College Board has stressed that this score will only serve as an extra amount of information for colleges to consider and won’t be a deciding factor when colleges consider applications. Many of the consultants the College Board consulted for the score have also supported the ECD.

In an article written for the Atlantic in defense of the ECD, Richard D. Kahlenberg, said, “nevertheless, even an imperfect adversity score is better than failing to account for the difficulty so many students overcome. Research from Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown University has found that the most disadvantaged students, on average, score a whopping 784 points lower on the SAT (out of a possible 1600) than the most advantaged.” It is true that this new dashboard will eventually help some people, but merely making the argument that it is ”better than nothing” is oversimplifying this issue.

Let’s look at Metea Valley as an example. Our school is one of the better performing schools in Illinois and has an extremely diverse community both racially and economically. Although a lot of the algorithm that the college board will use is still under wraps, based on the information given on their website its possible to get an idea on how the scoring will work. From what the information given by the College Board implies, a student from Naperville going to Metea Valley would receive an extremely low score due to Naperville’s economic prosperity and Metea Valley’s above average scoring. Since the ECD is calculated using overall details of the school and community of a student, this could potentially mean that some of the lower middle class students of Metea would get the same or similar score as the richest students in Metea. This is of course conjecture until the College Board reveals the algorithm but everything they’ve put out thus far is worrying to see.

What the College Board is essentially doing is quantifying the unquantifiable. You can’t simply assign a human being’s life a number on how hard they have had it. The ECD fails to note mental health, race, and other sorts of personal information that will most likely play a role in people’s lives. So yes, this system will have a positive impact in the lives of those living in impoverished conditions, but while that is all well and good this system isn’t something that can just be “better than nothing” especially when considering how it might impact the lives of the more “average” student.

The College Board is trying to fix a sinking ship with tiny band-aids. What this new controversy has done is bring into light the underlying issue that is the existence of the SAT in the first place. Just as it’s unreasonable to quantify the lives of students to single score, it’s also unreasonable to try to quantify the intelligence of a student into a simple score. You can try to do your best to minimize the problems with your test but that doesn’t change the fact that the core issue is the test itself. The SAT is a classist oversimplification of what it meant to be in high school for four years. Some major colleges like the University of Chicago have begun moving away from the SAT and started minimizing its influence on their application process year by year, however most of the country still prioritizes the SAT and ACT when considering applicants.

There is a lot of unknowns that come with the adversity score. That’s perhaps the biggest fear of all, the class of 2020 will be the first class to be majorly influenced by the new system which means a lot of the unknowns will be discovered by us, the students. The College Board clearly means well by this but what it needs to do is consider their own test’s failures and the ECD’s problematic algorithm before they give us something that’s “better than nothing”.