Timothy Peck 4 min read SAT Info and Tips, Standardized Tests

What Happened to the SAT Adversity Score?

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In spring of 2019, the College Board unveiled the new SAT Adversity score. This score was supposed give colleges a better context of the factors impacting a student’s academic performance. Following a storm of criticism from educators and parents, however, the College Board abandoned the adversity score just months later. Instead, it released a new metric called Landscape. 

 

What was the SAT Adversity Score?

 

The adversity score was created to give colleges a clearer sense of an applicant’s background, to reduce the impact that wealth and other socioeconomic advantages have on GPA and standardized test scores. It sought to alleviate a common criticism of the SAT: that wealthier students, on average, score higher on the SAT than their low-income peers. 

 

The SAT adversity score was based on a scale of 1 to 100; the higher the score a student received, the less amount of hardship they’ve undergone. To calculate the adversity score, the College Board considered 15 factors—including neighborhood crime rate, poverty level, and school quality. This would be represented by a single number that would give college admissions officials an idea of what challenges a student has faced to achieve their academic goals. A test taker was not able to see their adversity score; it was only visible to colleges and universities. 

 

If you’re interested in learning more about the now-abandoned adversity score, check out our blog post SAT Will Give Students “Adversity Score” — What Does That Mean?

 

Criticism of the SAT Adversity Score

 

One of the major criticisms of the SAT adversity score was that a student’s background and the challenges they’ve faced cannot be distilled down to a single number, and quantified as if it were an SAT score. College Board CEO David Coleman agreed with this evaluation in an interview with NPR, saying that the adversity score was indeed problematic, and that the company is now reversing its decision.

 

Others saw the adversity score as an admission of the flaws of the SAT: the fact that it’s easier for some students to score higher on the exam than others. The argument was that if the SAT requires a separate set of metrics to validate exam scores, the test itself needs to be fixed. The adversity score didn’t address the real problem, which is that the SAT is broken.  

 

Some critics of the adversity score saw it as a way to stay relevant at a time when more and more colleges are transitioning to test-optional admissions policies. The data used to calculate the adversity score is publicly available, so what the College Board was essentially doing is providing a large amount of labor and data collection for interested schools. Some argue that the motivation for the adversity score was to incentivize schools to keep the SAT as part of their admissions process. Others assert that the energy devoted to calculating the adversity score was better spent on eliminating score gaps. 

 

SAT Adversity Score Dropped for Landscape 

 

Replacing the SAT adversity score is the Landscape, a rebrand of what the College Board initially called the environmental context dashboard. A spokesperson for the College Board said of Landscape: “It provides information about the student’s environment. It puts a student’s SAT score and other academic accomplishments included in their college application in the context of where they live and learn.”

 

Visible to students and schools alike, Landscape provides a series of data points that the College Board views as affecting education, which college admissions departments can use to evaluate applicants more fairly. The information found in Landscape covers everything from school location (rural, urban, or suburban) to senior class size to factors such as housing stability, neighborhood income, and crime rates. Admissions officers will also be able to see where an applicant’s score falls among others from their high school.

 

The major difference is that Landscape offers many more data points, rather than offering a single number as the adversity score did; this helps remedy the criticism that a student’s background can’t be represented with a single score. For more about Landscape, read the College Board’s blog post on the metric.

 

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What Landscape Means for College Applicants 

 

At public colleges, Landscape could lead to a fairer admissions process. These schools often receive a massive amount of applications, and Landscape provides quick, easy-to-use data that allows admissions officials to simply evaluate applicants “in context,” which is beneficial for students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Because public universities receive approximately the same amount of money from each student, regardless of background, the information in a student’s landscape is unlikely to be used against them. 

 

At elite private colleges, Landscape is likely to do more than lighten the load of their admissions offices. The majority of these schools already devote considerable energy into evaluating applicants “in context,” and offer need-blind admissions. However, private colleges without the endowments of elite schools are more dependent on tuition for revenue. The fear at these schools is that a student’s ability to pay might factor into the decision-making process when evaluating an applicant, as Landscape makes it easier for schools to identify students from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

 

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Timothy Peck
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.