SAT Adversity Scoring Program – Why Some Are Concerned

Published on May 19, 2019

College Board announced on Tuesday that it will be expanding its new “Adversity Score” to about 150 colleges and universities across the country. The new scoring system takes social and economic adversity into account when compiling scores to, supposedly, give students in poverty stricken areas a slight curve over those exposed to better, more expensive, education. However, the adversity score has some concerned over how the scores are actually being used. What sounds like a good thing could actually be bad. That is, if colleges and universities are using the information to pick and choose which demographics are granted access to their programs.

Adversity Scoring

The concept of adversity scoring is something that the College Board has been toying with for years now. The company that administers the test has fallen under fire in the past because wealthy students in better schools are, on average, able to score higher on the SAT test than students from lower income areas and inner city schools. College Board wanted to come up with a way to give low-income students an advantage to be able to get into college easier. Thus, the new adversity scoring program was born.

The solution to this, in theory, would be to give students that receive a better education in elementary, middle, and high school a harder curve than those in public schooling or poverty stricken areas. These schools are usually areas with high amounts of students that are part of minority communities, which leads to an imbalance of the amount of white students that are able to score higher on the test simply because of the quality of education they were able to receive.

To get a feel for which areas, schools, and students will receive an advantage on the SAT, the College Board turned to crime records in major cities. Areas with high crime levels, housing prices, and percentages of real estate in that area that is vacant. The issue with this, though, is that it assumes that students exposed to adversity exist only in poverty stricken areas. The scoring program was originally a way for colleges to be able to target diverse demographics to provide greater opportunity to these students, but some social media users are concerned that the scoring program would actually be used against them.


Of course the adversity scoring program comes with good intention, but some social media users have expressed concern with any scoring program that makes assumptions about students based on things like race, neighborhood, and class. While the information is clearly intended to increase diversity in schools, it could just as easily be used against students that have already, historically, had a hard time getting into colleges like Yale and Harvard in the first place.

The adversity score would also have to account for changes in the local real estate market, as well as the possibility that the presence of the score could impact real estate to begin with. In low-income neighborhoods located within major cities, this could lead to a spike in gentrification. Considering the fact that we’ve seen what happens when wealthy people are desperate enough to get their kids into good schools, anything is possible.

Regardless of the possible negative side effects of the adversity scoring program, its intention is to immediately create a passage for students exposed to adversity to be able to have access to better higher education. The College Board will be rolling out the new program in as many as 150 schools by 2020. Right now, only a handful of schools around the country are participating in the program.


Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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