SAT's "adversity score" is gone. Or is it?

Earlier this year, John wrote about the implementation of “adversity scores” being used by colleges when evaluating applicants and their SAT scores. This was a “tool” used to evaluate the economic background of students and basically awarded bonus points to those who came from less economically prosperous neighborhoods with higher crime rates. This led to considerable confusion and protests from high scoring students from middle-class backgrounds who felt that their own efforts were being penalized.

Well, the experiment has run its course (no pun intended) and the adversity score is being dropped. It was described as having been “wrong” and “confusing.” But is it really going away? The devil is in the details as always. (NY Post)

The non-profit organization that administers SAT tests will drop the so-called “adversity score,” which combined neighborhood and school factors to produce a single number to supplement a student’s test score.

The adversity score, which took into account factors like neighborhood crime rate and advanced classes offered at a school, was introduced about two years ago and used by some 50 institutions amid criticism that college admission favored wealthy applicants.

This doesn’t mean that the issue is entirely dead. The adversity score tool is being replaced with something called “Landscape.” But it doesn’t really sound all that different.

They were working with what they called the Environmental Context Dashboard, which does basically the same thing. They claim to have made improvements to it and then slapped a new name on it. Thus we arrive at Landscape. Here’s the thumbnail description of it from CNN.

College Board announced Tuesday it improved the Environmental Context Dashboard and renamed it “Landscape.” The new tool will allow schools, students and families to see the same information about high schools and neighborhoods that colleges see.

Colleges have long considered information regarding students’ high schools and neighborhoods when making admissions decisions.

So it sounds like they are still generating information about average incomes and crime rates in various neighborhoods and providing that to the schools. The only differences are that they won’t be hiding the information from the public and they won’t assign a numerical score. If anything, this sounds like a plan that’s even more open to abuse.

The real question here is whether the neighborhood where a child grows up should be reflected in the admissions process at all. Going back to the article John Sexton wrote in May (linked above), I tend to mostly agree with his take on it. We should have the ability to recognize when someone overcame a greater amount of adversity and managed to excel in school. From that perspective, if you have two students who scored very nearly the same on the test and one of them came from an impoverished neighborhood with high crime rates while the other was middle or upper class, perhaps a small edge could be given to the student from the poorer family.

But at the same time, it’s all too easy to imagine this process being taken several steps too far. If we start rejecting overachieving students based solely on the wealth of their parents and replacing them with poorer students who significantly underachieved in high school, how is that fair? All you’re doing is removing the incentive for anyone to excel.

College admissions remain a sore spot in this country and it’s a thorny problem that won’t be solved overnight. The recent rash of scandals involving Lori Loughlin and others isn’t helping matters either.