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Criticisms of new SAT adversity score continue to mount

The recent decision by the Scholastic Aptitude Test to add a so-called adversity score to test takers’ results for college admissions’ officials to weigh has been almost universally panned.

Few think it’s a good idea to give students an “overall disadvantage level” ranking.

First, conservative scholar Heather Mac Donald laid out several big problems with the new index, noting it’s basically affirmative action and reinforces the soft bigotry of low expectations.

The College Fix’s senior reporter Christian Schneider also weighed in, calling it “just another invitation for fraud.”

“Clearly, lying about one’s racial identity is wrong – but in a country where racial makeup is growing more complex and college admittance is as competitive as ever, students can hardly be blamed for trying to give themselves a leg up,” he opined. “Colleges are basically begging to be duped – this is akin to publishing your HBO NOW login credentials online and politely asking people not to use your password to watch ‘Game of Thrones.'”

Over at The Daily Signal, Kenny Xu, a math major at Davidson College, pointed out that “the SAT’s new ‘adversity score’ isn’t just unfair. It’s self-destructive.” Xu wrote:

Only a few of the 15 factors used to determine a student’s adversity score have been revealed. But it’s unlikely that any of them will include irregular hardships, such as “My father died when I was little” or “I was bullied in middle school.”

The College Board’s overreaching attempt to determine what constitutes “adversity” for millions upon millions of high school students in America will inevitably capture only certain visible, easily researchable fractions of a student’s experience—a small portion of who they really are.

After all, the aspects that usually affect students’ lives the most are not easily researchable and are not stored in the public databases the College Board plans to mine. The sweeping, collective generalizations this adversity score will make about a person will hinder a student’s ability to craft his own story and advocate for himself.

The Wall Street Journal also came out against the plan. Its editorial board argued that the score “looks like a way to undermine one of the last objective measures of academic merit.”

Also weighing in, deputy editor of The Journal’s editorial page Daniel Henninger linked the new adversity index to the recent college admissions scandal to paint a grim picture:

The admissions scandal and the uproar over the new index literally have nothing to do with each other but in fact are about the same question: Are colleges, in pursuit of poor, mostly black students, putting a thumb on the admissions scales in a way that dilutes if not eviscerates the idea of achievement based on individual merit? The grim reality of what no doubt were liberal, socially aware parents resorting to bribes says, yes, higher education has a credibility problem. …

Accurately identifying and rescuing diamonds in the rough isn’t the worst way to level life’s playing field. But higher ed’s hyperactive race-consciousness has damaged the public’s faith in the admissions process. And will Asian students get shafted no matter what because they live on the wrong end of the bell curve?

Even a writer for Slate isn’t a fan: “Though these metrics appear to be a well-intentioned effort to guide schools toward more holistic admissions standards, it’s unsettling that a student’s fate could be determined by an opaque algorithm.”

The adversity index, or overall disadvantage level, or environmental context score — or whatever it’s being called now — is still a limited pilot program. But the initial responses and criticisms show most people thinks it’s a bad idea.

If the SAT hopes to retain its relevancy, it should correct course.

MORE: University of Texas says ‘meritocratic’ hiring is a ‘problem’

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor of The College Fix. She previously worked as a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for a decade in Southern California, and prior to that held editorial positions at The Weekly Standard, Washington Times and FrontPageMagazine. She is also a Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship recipient and has contributed to National Review.

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