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College Board Drops Its ‘Adversity Score’ For Each Student After Backlash

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Photo by Eric Gay AP

David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, which administers the SAT, announced on Tuesday that the company's "adversity score" was being abandoned and replaced by a new tool that provides information about a student's socioeconomic background.

The College Board is dropping its plan to give SAT-takers a single score that captures a student's economic hardship. The change comes after blowback from university officials and parents of those taking the college admissions exam.

Announced in May, the "adversity score" was intended to assess the kind of neighborhood the student came from, including factors such as the portion of teens receiving free or reduced lunch, the level of crime and average educational attainment.

In an interview with NPR, College Board CEO David Coleman said that boiling all of that complex information down to one number was problematic and that the company is now reversing its decision.

Some people worried that the adversity score would affect SAT scores, when that was never the case, Coleman said.

"The idea of a single score was confusing because it seemed that all of a sudden the College Board was trying to score adversity. That's not the College Board's mission," Coleman said. "The College Board scores achievement, not adversity."

And so the College Board is launching a tool called Landscape, which will provide admissions counselors with information about a student's background, like average neighborhood income and crime rates, but Coleman said the data points will not be given a score.

The College Board is letting college officials do their own analysis from the government information it provides alongside SAT scores.

"We'll leave the interpretation to the admission's officer," Coleman said. "In other words, we're leaving a lot more room for judgment."

The College Board initially conceived of the idea of providing schools with a student's background information at the request of colleges and universities in an attempt to view a student's objective SAT results in the context of the conditions under which the student lives and learns, Coleman said. The thinking, he said, was that if a student overcame economic or other challenges to earn a certain SAT score, that information should be known by decision-makers.

"The founding mission of the College Board is, it's not about your connections, it's not about who you know," Coleman said. "It's about what you've done."

The adversity score did not account for a student's race, but schools that used the tool in pilot testing reported that the socioeconomic data helped boost nonwhite enrollment.

Revising the approach but keeping the contextual background information will hopefully appease the college counselors and parents who were upset over the adversity score, Coleman said.

"The first move was to admit," he said, "that summing it up in a single score was a mistake, so we've stopped that."

Pushback against the initial score included the criticism that how the information was calculated, along with what each student's score was, remained unavailable to the students and their families. Now, Coleman said, that will change.

"Within a year, we'll be able for every family and student, on their College Board account, to show them their neighborhood and school information transparently," he said.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit


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