Saturday, May 18, 2019

"Adversity Score" for Students Taking the SAT

From the New York Times:

Scoring patterns on the SAT suggesting that the test puts certain racial and economic groups at a disadvantage have become a concern for colleges.
Also, from The Mercury News:
Sexton also noted that the nonprofit College Board is in a competitive business with the rival ACT and also facing a number of campuses that are making such exams optional in response to criticism of the gap between rich and poor student scores.

“They’ve been losing market share to ACT and test optional schools,” Sexton said, adding the adversity score might be an appealing new product to make it easier for colleges to assess the relative challenges of students’ home environments.
College Board Solution:
The College Board, the company that administers the SAT exam taken by about two million students a year, will for the first time assess students not just on their math and verbal skills, but also on their educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, entering a fraught battle over the fairness of high-stakes testing.

The company announced on Thursday that it will include a new rating, which is widely being referred to as an “adversity score,” of between 1 and 100 on students’ test results. An average score is 50, and higher numbers mean more disadvantage. The score will be calculated using 15 factors, including the relative quality of the student’s high school and the crime rate and poverty level of the student’s neighborhood.
The rating will not affect students’ test scores, and will be reported only to college admissions officials as part of a larger package of data on each test taker.
I note that the College Board will fill in most of this information, not the student. 
“Merit is all about resourcefulness,” David Coleman, chief executive of the College Board, said in an interview on Thursday. “This is about finding young people who do a great deal with what they’ve been given. It helps colleges see students who may not have scored as high, but when you look at the environment that they have emerged from, it is amazing.”

“Merit is all about resourcefulness,” David Coleman, chief executive of the College Board, said in an interview on Thursday. “This is about finding young people who do a great deal with what they’ve been given. It helps colleges see students who may not have scored as high, but when you look at the environment that they have emerged from, it is amazing.”
The adversity score is based on data from the Census Bureau, crime data from the F.B.I., and other sources, College Board officials said. It accounts for circumstances like wealthier students going to magnet schools in poorer areas, as well as the reverse. But Mr. Coleman said that these were likely to be outliers.
“It is much more common that poor people live in poor neighborhoods than the wealthy do,” Mr. Coleman said. “But growing up in a neighborhood with less violence gives you advantages in your academic work.”

Early Criticism

Op-ed in the Times by Thomas Chatterton Williams
Mr. Williams is the author of the forthcoming “Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race.”
 Though there are a near infinitude of ways both explicit and subtle to experience challenges in life, the adversity index will restrict itself to just three categories: neighborhood environment (including factors like crime and poverty rates and housing values); family environment (the income, education and marriage status of parents and whether they speak English); and high school environment (aspects like the free lunch rate and rigor of the curriculum).
No two lives are commensurate and not all adversity can be taken into account. But the College Board is attempting to dictate which forms matter and which do not. It cannot — and does not — attempt to assess the mental toll of being called a “monkey” on your walk home, or of living through the premature death of a parent or sibling. It will not capture the texture of life with an educated but alcoholic or emotionally abusive parent.

And so the dehumanizing message of the new adversity index is that America’s young people are nothing but interchangeable sociological points of data — and the jagged complexity of an individual life somehow can be sanded down, quantified and fairly contrasted.

No matter how well meaning the intentions, we have been conditioning ourselves to interpret the world exclusively through the overlapping lenses of race — or its euphemisms — and privilege. But one of the most valuable gifts a liberal arts education can offer is the jarring and ultimately liberating realization that differences in money and social background do not, and cannot, explain everything.
From the NY Times article:
Robert Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest, a group that is critical of standardized testing, said that if the SAT needed a sophisticated contextual framework to make it valid, then “it’s a concession that it’s not a good test.”

He added that the adversity score would not capture individual situations, like a child who was middle class but whose mother was addicted to opioids. “Mentally adjusting scores based on where a student came from and what obstacles she overcame is common practice,” Mr. Schaeffer said. “It’s this attempt to do it in a quantitative manner that opens up many other issues.”
From The Mercury News:
It comes at a time when Asian-American applicants have sued Harvard alleging they were rejected because of their race, while dozens of rich parents have been charged with paying to cheat on their kids’ entrance exams and bribe college coaches to ease their progeny into top schools.

“This will add to the uncertainty for a few years, which will likely only fuel anxiety around admissions,” said Gordy Steil, a private college admission counselor in Berkeley.

“Do you have good parents? Sorry your application has been denied,” tweeted Jorge S. Ortiz, a business development manager at North Side Community Federal Credit Union in Chicago.

Your thoughts?


Anonymous said...

A key point from the NYT opinion piece, by Thomas Chatterton Williams:

"...whatever one’s views on affirmative action, this new score introduces an inscrutable redundancy — one that cannot be disputed or appealed."

There does not seem to be a way to confirm what personal information a student may have shared with the College Board, either when creating a College Board account or during test administration. The website provides a link to "Update your account" and shows basic info like name, address, high school, and parent contact info, but not info that a student may have shared about parental income and educational level, intended major, etc. Contacting the College Board directly may be the only route.

many unknowns

Melissa Westbrook said...

Another good article from Forbes:


"The College Board has not revealed the factors or their weights in calculating adversity scores beyond claiming that some of the data are from public sources and some are proprietary. This is unacceptable. If it refuses to disclose how adversity scores are calculated, the College Board should not expect the public to accept them.

The fact that the College Board does not want students to know their adversity scores reflects their own discomfort with the concept. And for good reason. It’s a potential source of self-handicapping and self-fulfilling prophecy.

At a time when standardized testing is under increased scrutiny and is even being discontinued or minimized as an admission tool by hundreds of colleges, one must wonder whether adversity scores are primarily an attempt to protect the SAT’s market or to promote social mobility. Colleges that are genuinely concerned about the bias built into the tests or the cheating associated with the SAT or the ACT, have a simpler choice: don’t require students to take them."

Call me skeptical said...

The Adversity score is about the College Board recognizing that its tests are biased and offering a new product to soften its image and maintain its viability.

Alsept Teresa said...

Ok. I don’t have children so I might not understand this but what would keep people from lying about their address if it would help their score?

Unknown said...

I that agree with the implication stated in the Forbes piece; colleges are busting their humps to improve their racial diversity metrics without directly using race as a criteria for admissions.

It's the colleges that essentially create the market demand for the tests, so I'm betting this new feature came at the behest of colleges looking for a way to get ahead of the potential fallout from the upcoming lawsuits at Harvard.


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Anonymous said...

Search "Data driven models to understand environmental context" for a PDF explaining Phase I of the College Board pilot (2016 application cycle). See also "Admissions tool collects data on students’ lives before Trinity" for perspective on the Phase II pilot.

more reading

Outsider said...

This new thing should be great for gentrification. I work as marketing director for Bud Tuggly Condobox Developers Unlimited, and we were doing high fives all around the office. Condos in the 'hood are up $100K since last week. (I also bet students at tough high schools are looking forward to providing some adversity to the kids who move in junior year to increase their adversity scores.)

Realistically, though, I am afraid it will be a temporary bump. Soon everyone will realize that address and high school at the time of taking test, even if true, is not a reliable indicator of adversity. Lucky for the College Board, plenty of ed-tech companies will be happy to sell them huge data sets that trace your student's movements since pre-school. Adversity 2.0 will use all that data to calculate much more accurate scores.

But why stop there? The scores would be even more accurate if they factored in parents' credit scores, criminal history, divorce and DYS records, credit card spending history, movements as recorded by mobile phone carriers, etc. All that data is for sale. Big Data will happily crunch it for a fee.

Anonymous said...

Watching the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary made me realize that all women qualify for an adversity handicap as well.

I'm glad I didn't have one though. I want to know where I stand and what I am up against in life.


Anonymous said...

In a recent WBUR interview, guest David Coleman (College Board CEO) suggested they are contemplating making a school's adversity score available. Time will tell. It's clear they are getting some pushback.

"Will An SAT 'Adversity Score' Actually Address College Admission Disadvantages?" 5/21/19

many unknowns

Anonymous said...

Another attempt by the College Board to make the highly lucrative SAT more culturally relevant, and thus, more lucrative. The test was revamped in 2016 as it was rapidly losing ground to the ACT, which was becoming as widely accepted by colleges as the SAT. After the SAT's redesign, the two tests are nearly interchangeable. Despite appearances, the College Board is NOT on the side of students, not even those affected by "adversity factors." The College Board is squarely on the side of the College Board, a "highly lucrative non-profit":

"The College Board is a non-profit, but one with a yearly revenue of more than $750 million, according to the group's most recent publicly available 990 form" (from 2014 - https://www.businessinsider.com/the-sat-may-have-been-changed-to-help-college-board-maximize-revenue-2014-3).

Happily an increasing number of excellent colleges and universities are now choosing to go test-optional. This is a boon for all students, as well as those with learning issues which make taking standardized tests a struggle. Some require a portfolio of work in place of test scores, others look more closely at other pieces of a student's application. All of these schools have found the quality of their students has not been affected by choosing not to require test scores. If your student scores poorly on standardized entrance exams, it's worth looking into one or more of these schools.

Here is a current list of colleges for which submitting the SAT/ACT is considered optional for admissions:



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