The College Board Didn’t Actually Drop The SAT ‘Adversity Score’

NEWTON - MARCH 3: A student pauses while taking a sample SAT test during his prep class in Newton, Massachusetts on March 3, 2005. The class, taught at one of Kaplan's Test Prep and Admissions centers, helps prepare high school students for the SAT.
(Photo by John Nordell/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the College Board announced that it had abandoned plans to add a so-called “adversity score” to the SAT. David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, insists he “listened to thoughtful criticism” of the proposal, which presumed to measure student hardship by tabulating socioeconomic data such as average family income, crime rates, and educational attainment in applicants’ neighborhoods. But on closer examination, the College Board seems to have preserved the misbegotten adversity score under a different name.

While the original proposal would have combined socioeconomic statistics from a student’s neighborhood into a single score, the renamed program “Landscape” divides the data into six measurements, as though the problem with the plan were its imprecision rather than its premise. But whether the College Board tries to calculate test-takers’ adversity in one measure or one hundred, the fact remains: you can’t quantify suffering.

Everyone suffers. Rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. It falls on both the rich and the poor too. Leftist materialists imagine suffering to be a factor of economic circumstance. But a poor child raised in a stable household with both of his parents enjoys a far pleasanter upbringing than a rich kid whose father beats his mother. Death, disease, and divorce affect wealthy suburbs as well as the inner city.

Even if the College Board could quantify suffering, what would be the effect? Victimhood would gain even greater social currency than it already has. Disadvantage would become advantage; oppression would turn to privilege. Already our popular culture has perverted its incentives under the guise of “self-love” and the celebration of “pride” to reward self-pity and punish humility. How much more would gratitude yield to petulance if grievance got us into college?

But the College Board will never find an objective measure of hardship because suffering is subjective. Some people bear great burdens with grace; others suffer minor inconveniences in misery. Moreover, statistics such as median neighborhood wealth tell admissions officers little about any particular student’s circumstances. As the last college admissions scandal showed us in March, wealthy parents will go to extreme lengths to game the subjective aspects of the process to give their children a better shot at an elite university. Does anyone believe they won’t find a way to work this work-around too?

Standardized tests are so called because they measure students’ abilities against an objective standard. Everyone suffers differently, but every student can take the same exam. While the rest of the college admissions process considers subjective criteria such as personal statements, extracurricular activities, reference letters, and GPAs, which vary in meaning from school to school, the SAT offered an objective opportunity for students to showcase their academic abilities. No longer. Now the College Board has taken that opportunity away from students, and they haven’t even the decency to add it to the applicants’ adversity scores.

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