SAT Adversity Score quantifies the unquantifiable


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Ethan Leifman

The College Board recently announced that it will expand its pilot of its adversity score program, tested at 50 colleges and universities last year. The adversity score attempts to give colleges more context based on a student’s background. It will measure local factors like the poverty and crime rates, as well as the average class size and percentage of students at a school. While this may seem like a solely positive step in the right direction towards elaborating on the context of a student’s school, there are some complications.

Simply put, adversity cannot be factored into a clean number from zero to 100. Yes, proponents of the score may tout its supposed effectiveness because it also takes into account neighborhood wealth, meaning kids from poorer neighborhoods who go to school in wealthier ones will benefit to some degree.

But that isn’t every disadvantaged high schooler. There are students whose families are far from fortunate, but have section 8 vouchers to live in wealthier neighborhoods. There are students who live in well-off but abusive households. There are students who go to high schools with high AP scores who may be penalized for their lower scores. There are students whose families may be higher-earning, but are struggling with things like outsize medical bills and treatment. There are students who struggle with issues that are outside the adversity score, whose struggles cannot be neatly packaged into an oppression rating based on pseudoscience alone.

It’s not like colleges don’t already take your background into account during the application process. It’s called holistic review. You tell them almost everything about you, and they factor it into their decision. What could very well happen now is some colleges actually reducing the somewhat painstaking process of going into every applicant’s background, because a two-digit number is so much easier to look at. It’s easier to look at pre-analyzed data than re-analyze it yourself. But students aren’t data points. We are people. And to put people into quantifiable numbers and more boxes, in the whole age of stepping out of the box, is a step in the wrong direction.