The College Board is Abandoning 'Adversity Scores'—But Not Completely

The College Board is Abandoning 'Adversity Scores'—But Not Completely
AP Photo/Paul Vernon, File

Three months ago the College Board provoked controversy when it announced that it would start reporting “adversity scores” to colleges. The College Board said it would still report students’ actual scores, but it would also offer a second score reflecting how much hardship the student had to face at home, in the neighborhood, and at school. The 100-point Adversity Scale would be part of the College Board’s “Environmental Context Dashboard,” which tells colleges how to read SAT scores in light of students’ social backgrounds.

Last week, however, the College Board announced that it was ditching Adversity Scores. But this is less a retreat than it is a redeployment. They’ve renamed their “Environmental Context Dashboard” as “Landscape.” Landscape shows students’ actual SAT scores to college admissions officers, but accompanied by all the “comparative data” colleges need to create their own Adversity Scores. And while David Coleman, CEO of College Board, boasts that "We listened to thoughtful criticism and made Landscape better and more transparent," the College Board won’t let students see Landscape. Landscape is still a black box for the American public.

The College Board’s change does allow for pressure to be put on American colleges, to shame them into living up to the ideals of equality of opportunity and individual merit. NAS recommends that state legislators pass laws to prohibit public universities from using Landscape information, or any similar source of data, in college admissions. Trustees at private colleges—and anyone considering applying to a college—should also require a guarantee that the college isn’t using Landscape.

NAS also recommends that lawmakers ask the College Board if Landscape judges foreign student applicants, and whether applying Landscape to domestic students effectively favors foreign applications to American universities. What’s the Landscape for a student from China? Do colleges have lower admissions standards for foreign students who aren’t Landscaped? The College Board should not institute a policy that systematically favors foreign student applicants over domestic ones. The College Board is unclear about whether Landscape could disadvantage American students.

The College Board’s walk back did not go far enough. Every minute it spends polishing its race discrimination services is a minute spent doing Americans a disservice. The company should simply eliminate Landscape—and every other initiative that takes it away from its core business of providing standardized tests to American high school students. And if they won’t, another organization should step up to do the job the College Board won’t.

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