Scoring Adversity is Un-American?

The College Board’s plan to add Adversity Scoring to the SATs is questionable. It means scoring people on the circumstances of their birth, rather than the content of their character or their performance.

As a parent of one college student and two more who will be applying soon, I appreciate how the admissions process can be stressful, opaque, and unfair. In that sense, it’s a lot like the job market they’re preparing for.

SATs (and other tests) aren’t perfect. Cultural bias, wealth, and being good or bad at testing all influence scores. Unfortunately, that’s how the world works. Standardized tests are useful because they’re standardized and based on actual performance.


Am I supposed to discount a high-scoring and high-performing job candidate because he grew up with too many advantages? Most people would agree that the answer is no. We hire based on actual ability to contribute.

When it comes to admissions, American schools have been factoring in non-academic information for years. Essays, recommendations, hobbies, awards, and interviews are all part of the process of evaluating candidates as a whole person. If a school wants to take adversity into account, they can do that. But standardizing that judgment seems dangerous.

The particular statistics being used, and their relative weights, will be trade secrets of the College Board, adding to the “black box” of admissions. Any errors in the scoring process would be replicated across every single application a student submits, multiplying unfairness. The simplicity of a score will surely tempt admissions officers to rely on it, instead of getting to really know applicants as unique individuals. I think this is a step in the wrong direction.

This move by College Board feeds into the competitive victimhood trend that is roiling our culture. Everybody has their challenges in life. It’s not a competition. How do we compare a student from a home full of substance abuse, anger, and great wealth against another student from a loving, stable, and poor family? These situations happen all the time, and I don’t see how a pseudo-scientific adversity score, based on the students’ zip codes, is the answer.

So let’s not pretend we can quantify people’s pain or challenges. Life is too complex and nuanced for that. College applicants are striving young people hoping to better themselves. Instead of reducing them to a score they can’t influence, we should judge them on their abilities, accomplishments, and character. That’s the American way.

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