Score Me Dubious


College Board, the folks who administer the SAT (the Scholastic Aptitude Test) have just announced that there will be what’s being called an “adversity score” in addition to a numerical valuation of math and verbal skills. College Board Chief Executive David Coleman prefers to call it “context data.”

The range will be between 1 and 100. Consideration will be given to 15 factors, including the quality of the student’s high school and poverty level of the student’s neighborhood. Race will not be considered, and students will not get to see the score.

While I think the intent to level the playing field is noble, I question the approach.

Fill disclosure: my own SAT score back in the day was mediocre at best.

That partially explains why I’ve never been a fan of the test. Even before this news, I’ve explained that I think too much consideration is given to one exam.

With regard to adversity, my view is that a college application should convey a variety of background information about the upbringing of an applicant, but to elevate a numerical value of circumstance alongside achievement in math and verbal scores is not the appropriate way of doing so. I worry it will have undue influence upon those more objective scores.

If the Common Application wishes to include questions regarding circumstance, that would be fine, but for that role to be assumed by the administrator of a test strikes me as overreach.

Second, I worry that any broad assessment of one’s neighborhood makes assumptions about what’s going on in a particular home that might not be accurate. I’m fond of an island saying:

“You don’t know if the roof leaks until you live inside.”

What about the families whose upscale appearance masks the hardship indoors?

Third, I worry that this punishes a student in an advantaged neighborhood, maybe a white middle-class student, who still seeks to gain admission the old-fashioned way, by working hard.

Look, as a parent, I just went through the college application process for the fourth and final time - each with good result.

This is far from sour grapes - each of our children is more intelligent than I.

But if I had to do it over again, I might decide early-on to have them skip the SAT and ACT altogether.

Instead of the expensive test prep, the time-consuming independent study and the angst produced by each Saturday morning test, I’d rather see that commitment directed toward something of lasting value, like learning to be proficient in a musical instrument, painting, or community service.

There’s a reason why, according to Fair Test: the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, as of today, 1,025 accredited bachelor degree granting colleges and universities don’t require ACT or SAT scores. They include Bowdoin, the University of Chicago, Wake Forest, Brandeis, American, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and George Washington.

On this we can all agree - the status quo of college admissions is unacceptable.

Everyone calls the situation unfair. Asians believe they are capped. Other minorities think it’s a game of white privilege. And those who are white and privileged think the minorities and athletes are reducing slots for their children.

I say better that we focus on grades earned over years instead of performance on a single Saturday morning.