Recently, the College Board announced the implementation of an additional piece of information sent to colleges along with students’ SAT scores: a number from 1 to 100 they dub the “Overall Disadvantage Level.” The media, however, has quickly adopted the name “adversity score” to describe the single number that supposedly represents a student’s privilege. This score takes into account factors like familial, economic, and social background.
Well intentioned, the adversity score supposedly gives colleges perspective to the student’s raw SAT score. By showing the relative amount of resources a student possessed in their educational life, the score hopes to give those who are underprivileged a boost in the college application process. Though on the right track, the College Board’s methodology may not be the most optimal.
First, the score reduces a student’s situation to a mere number. Multiple factors can play into a student’s relative success, and each individual’s circumstance is unique. It is overly simplified to universalize the criteria in which to gauge a student’s performance and resources.
The score can also easily misrepresent people, as low income students who live in high income areas do not see their situation correctly reflected within the score. In this way, the score may actually backfire in the faces of those it was initially intended to help. On the other hand, those who are indeed advantaged could easily abuse the system, simply faking home addresses or other information to game the system.
Finally, the idea creates a soft bias towards those who are underprivileged. It can easily normalize the mindset that those that are conventionally disadvantaged must settle with a fate of constant inferiority. The idea that a certain level of performance is “good enough for someone like you” reduces people to labels and encourages mediocrity. It cements and reaffirms the disadvantage in the minds of underprivileged students and can unintentionally degrade them.
Overall, College Board is right in that all students must be seen in context: one cannot judge across the board simply by a raw score. But the adversity score just isn’t the way to do it.