by Courtney Green '20
The College Board, creators of both the SAT, AP exams, and subject tests, recently announced their plan to implement an “adversity index” which is designed to “place SAT scores in the context of their socioeconomic advantages or disadvantages”. The quantitative measurement of disadvantage used to determine the adversity index is one that has been implemented by approximately 50 universities as of 2019. However, the College Board plans to expand this system to 150 colleges by 2020. For example, many elite private institutions such as Yale have already been implementing the adversity index. Nevertheless, unlike private universities, many public educational institutions do not have to take the time to do in-depth research on an applicant’s school and environmental background. In the cases of public universities, the predetermined adversity index provided by the College Board can give these schools helpful background information about their prospective students. The College Board is not exposing information college admissions did not already have access to; it is moreso offering an organized compilation of external factors at play which have the potential to limit a student’s success.
To the best of its ability, the adversity index measures the socioeconomic disadvantages that candidates for admission have faced. The adversity index includes a multitude of factors which provide contextual data on a student’s neighborhood and high school environment. Such factors are determined by a students zip code and include median family income, the average highest level of parents education, and many percentages consisting of households in poverty, households who use food stamps, households with single parents, and households with parents who are unemployed or hold nonprofessional jobs. All students in the same neighborhood with the same zip code will have the same neighborhood index as well as all students attending the same high school. The adversity index is not intended to reflect on the student's merit, rather, the adversity index provides context on the student's environment as an indication of how it may have hindered or facilitated their academic successes. Additionally, the adversity index does not include race. The adversity index is on a scale of 1 to 100 percentage points where 1 represents least disadvantaged and 100 represents most disadvantaged. College admissions offices, as well as officials at the College Board, are the only ones with access to student’s adversity scores -- students will not be able to view their own scores, nor will the faculty at their respective high schools.
There are many systematic flaws inherent in college-entry-level standardized tests, the most notable being that the SAT and ACT seem to be more of a reflection of a student’s preparation and access to tutoring and a students quality of education rather than a reflection of actual intelligence. For example, standardized tests put historically-oppressed minorities at a disadvantage, especially those with low socioeconomic statuses, due to the fact that they do not have the same resources available to prepare for the college entry-level tests that affluent applicants do. Statistics show that Blacks, Latinx, and Native American applicants score lower on the SAT than White and Asian applicants. Yet, these same minorities are statistically worse-off socioeconomically. Of the total amount of Americans in poverty, Blacks make up twenty-six percent, Native Americans make up twenty-seven percent, Hispanics make up twenty-three percent, Whites make up twelve percent, and Asian Americans make up the remaining twelve percent (source: Poverty USA). Students who are, on average, far better off socioeconomically, will evidently score higher on their college-entry-level tests due to their access to preparation programs and the school provided resources for the advancement of their education as a result of their economic stability. It is a well-known fact among students of the Close that our test scores can rise significantly with a few trips to a tutor and guided preparation material. Subsequently, many of us are in a position where if we score poorly on one test, we can afford to take it multiple times until we receive a score we are happy with. Students in lower socioeconomic positions do not have these same privileges. The national evaluation of every student on college entry-level exams does not reflect the fact that each student receives a different caliber of education. These disparities in opportunity make the standards for comparison unjust. When there are institutionalized systems in place that disadvantage minorities students from achieving success, it is unfair that standardized tests stand alone with no background information on a student’s economic disadvantages and access to quality education. Thus, the adversity index is the College Board’s attempt to shed light on certain financial challenges prospective students and their families face that can potentially hinder their academic accomplishments so that college admissions officers can take these challenges into account when reviewing applicants’ test scores.
Many affluent students fear that their privilege will set them back in the eyes of college admissions, yet, nowhere does the College Board state that students with higher adversity indexes, those who are more disadvantaged, will be given an advantage in college admissions. The adversity index does not give an advantage to students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, rather, it provides an explanation for their lower test scores. In addition, many believe it is unfair that non-socio-economic setbacks which affect one’s adversity, such as familial issues or battles with mental illness will be left out of the index. However, such adversities, while important, are subjective and can in no way be weighed quantitatively which is why it remains up to an individual to relay aforementioned challenges in their essays or personal narratives which has always been the case.
Opponents of affirmative action argue that, while the intentions of affirmative action are helpful in promoting diversity, the way it is implemented does so unjustly. There is a common misconception that an affluent Black or Latinx student with lower test scores would get into an elite university over an impoverished White student. While a distorted view of how affirmative action actually works, if this were actually the case with college admissions, the adversity score would eliminate alleged injustices as it would make apparent to admissions that students are not always put at an academic disadvantage because of their race. For example, I am a Black female. These identifiers presumably indicate that I have suffered inherent disadvantages because of my race and gender; therefore, someone like me would benefit from race-based affirmative action. However, because I have grown up with privileges such as access to private education in top tier school districts, the adversity score would accurately depict such to college admissions who are considering my application next to a more socioeconomically disadvantaged student as it would show that their adversity is greater than mine.
While I am a huge advocate for the adversity index since it provides colleges with the important context of a student’s background, I am uncomfortable with the fact that the College Board is the company doing so. In my opinion, a monopolistic firm that notoriously profits off of standardized testing should be the last organization to be providing an adversity index as they have questionable underlying intentions behind doing so. Is it even legal for the College Board to make a profit off of information, we as minors, provide to them? The creation of subject tests and AP exams are ultimately just more opportunities for the College Board to profit off of students during the college application process, so how can we trust that that adversity information is in safe hands? That being said, the adversity index provides crucial and necessary information to colleges and is ultimately a good measurement of an applicants socioeconomic disadvantages.