The College Board backed away from a controversial plan to assign students a numerical rating reflective of the disadvantages and inequality they may have faced in their communities and schools.

Criticisms dash SAT plan to assign college applicants an adversity score

Rather than generate a hardship score for each student, College Board will offer broader data about school, community

The College Board today backed away from a controversial plan to assign students a numerical rating reflective of the disadvantages and inequality they may have faced in their communities and schools. 

The so-called adversity score did not go over well after it was revealed in May by the College Board, the non-profit organization that owns the SAT. In public forums, middle-class and high-income parents -- worried about a perceived shortchanging of their kids -- charged the College Board was lowering standards and giving an edge to mediocrity at the expense of more deserving students.

Among the critical comments: 

I wonder if those students admitted with an "adversity" score would then get "adversity" adjustments to their grades so they could successfully complete class work, then get an "adversity" degree upon graduation.

Now, instead of a single score drawn from what was to be known as the Environmental Context Dashboard, the College Board will offer a broader-based profile of the student’s school and community called Landscape. 

Landscape will not assign students a single score but offer several pieces of information about the school and its environs to admissions officers eager to find diamonds in the rough whose applications may not stand out at first glance.

Among the data points the College Board will share with colleges about the applicant: The predicted probability that a student from the neighborhood/high school enrolls in a four-year college, the number of married or coupled families, single parent families, and children living under the poverty line, median family income, housing stability as gauged through vacancy rates, rental vs. home ownership, and mobility/housing turnover, educational attainment in the area, and the predicted probability of being a victim of a crime in the neighborhood or neighborhood. 

The goal of the adversity score was to give colleges a sense of whether applicants’ attainments were remarkable in the context of their neighborhood and their school and the obstacles they had to overcome. The adversity score would not have fed into or raised a student’s SAT performance but simply given colleges additional information about an applicant.

According to a release from College Board today: 

These changes come in response to feedback from educators and families over the past few months. The revised resource offers greater consistency in the admissions process, providing admissions professionals with organized information on schools and neighborhoods. 

“We listened to thoughtful criticism and made Landscape better and more transparent,” said David Coleman, CEO of College Board. “Landscape provides admissions officers more consistent background information so they can fairly consider every student, no matter where they live and learn.”

Colleges have long considered context about students’ high schools and neighborhoods when making admissions decisions. But with more applications coming from more places, getting consistent information about every high school and neighborhood is challenging. Admissions officers using Landscape estimate they lack high school information for about 25% of all applications. Landscape presents consistent high school and neighborhood information so admissions officers can fairly consider each student. 

The College Board emphasized Landscape will not alter or replace any information that students provide in their applications or individual information, such as GPA, personal essay, or high school transcript. Nor will it alter a student’s SAT score in any way. 

"Landscape is evidence of two things: College Board's intentional commitment to access and the organization's willingness to incorporate feedback from school counselors and member institutions,” said Steve Frappier, Westminster’s director of college. “In admissions, any gaps in essential information inhibit understanding, which in turn can inhibit a committee's ability to advocate. Applicants tell their own stories based on required materials, which often include transcript, essays, the listing of activities, and test scores. When consulted, Landscape stands to increase an admissions officer's understanding of all applicants, especially those applying from unfamiliar neighborhoods."

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.