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Thursday, October 28, 2021

The dreaded SAT. If you went to high school in the United States, you probably took this important test at some point.

In addition to the usual math, reading and writing scores, there will soon be one more score in the mix: the adversity score.

Last week, College Board (the organization that runs the SATs) announced it would create what is being referred to as an “adversity score,” which scores each student from 1 to 100 based on 15 different factors, such as local crime rate, poverty rate and estimated education level of their parents. Numbers above 50 will be more disadvantaged and numbers below 50 will be less disadvantaged. Students will not be able to see their adversity scores. It will instead be viewed only by college admissions departments.

There’s been an outpouring of both positive and negative reactions. Proponents say it would give context to students’ results and provide a better understanding than the raw test scores. Opponents expressed concerns it would negate students’ hard work and reduce them to a product of their surroundings.

On one hand, this move toward adversity scoring does make sense. There has been evidence of disparities in SAT scores based on race and socioeconomic status (those two factors are often linked). Even without that evidence, it’s common sense that someone who can afford SAT prep classes and has parents and educators to help prepare them for the big test would do better than someone who does not have access to those things. While this could apply to all tests and exams, this is truer for the SAT and ACT due to both being roughly consistent year-to-year in terms of the types of questions. High scores are often based more on studying and preparation for the test rather than intelligence. The adversity score wouldn’t necessarily raise or lower anyone based on their background, but it would provide context.

The entire idea of the SAT and how it’s viewed goes against the concept of an adversity score. The original pitch for the SAT was simple: a handful of scores on key subjects (math, reading, and writing) that would give colleges an idea of how well each student is prepared for college-level material. The value of the SAT, and perhaps its reason for existing, is that it takes a range of information and condenses it into one overall score and three sub-scores. Including an adversity score, while more reflective of the real-world, also seems to go against the very core of the SAT. In short, adding other variables makes the simple and straightforward scores not so simple and straightforward.

In the end, the College Board is in a tough situation. College Board now has to acknowledge that a small set of scores devoid of context cannot accurately reflect a whole person. The idea of the all-important SAT scores is so ingrained in people’s minds and in the purpose of the test that trying to add context and complexity is bound to cause backlash.

So what is to be done? My answer, and this is something that College Board won’t like, would be to de-emphasize SAT and ACT scores. Make it optional. Do not consider it a crucial part of all applications. A handful of scores can never completely reflect who a person is and how they’ll do in college. Instead of relying on those scores, we should rely on other methods, such as grades, portfolios and other measures which tracks a student’s whole school career rather than one test. This may not be a simple or straightforward measurement, but it may be a lot more accurate than any “adversity score.”

Jason Zappulla is a UF history senior. His column appears on Tuesdays.

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