The Corner

Education

The College Board’s ‘Adversity Score’ Perpetuates the Myth of SAT Bias

Students walk at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

A common defense of affirmative action in college admissions is that it simply adjusts for difficult childhood circumstances. Under this theory, students from underrepresented groups score below their true ability level on the SAT due to poverty or discrimination or a lack of fancy test prep, but they will thrive once brought to an enriching university environment. If true, affirmative action would not involve any lowering of admission standards, but rather a fairer appraisal of each applicant’s abilities.

It’s not true. Researchers have known for decades that SAT scores predict college performance for poor and minority students about as well as they do for everyone else. To the extent there is a difference, the SAT actually over-predicts their performance. Therefore, if the goal is to find the students who will be most academically successful, colleges should not bump up applicants’ SAT scores on the basis of poverty or race.

That’s one reason why the College Board’s new “adversity score” is so troubling. By providing schools with a secret quantification of each applicant’s childhood environment, the College Board furthers the myth that the SAT is predictively biased along socioeconomic lines. According to the New York Times:

Admissions officers have also tried for years to find ways to gauge the hardships that students have had to overcome, and to predict which students will do well in college despite lower test scores. The new adversity score is meant to be one such gauge.

If so, we already know it doesn’t work. The College Board’s own data (see page 42) show that test scores and high school grades predict college performance about equally across all adversity levels. An exception is for students at the highest levels of adversity where, once again, their college GPA is slightly below expectations, not above.

In reality, there is no merit-based case for affirmative action in college admissions. Proponents should acknowledge that their chief interest is not merit, but social justice. “Diversity is so important to our schools and to broader society that lowering standards is a worthy price to pay,” they should declare. That would be a reminder that affirmative action — like all hotly debated issues — involves inherent trade-offs, and it’s up to the public to decide how to weigh them.

Jason Richwine is a public-policy analyst and a contributor to National Review Online.

Most Popular

How to Avoid a China-Led World Order

As the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, it has opened our eyes to China’s rapidly expanding role in the international order and global economy. Beijing’s outsize role in the World Health Organization has come under attack, as has the muscular diplomacy used by China’s foreign ministry in responding to ... Read More

How to Avoid a China-Led World Order

As the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, it has opened our eyes to China’s rapidly expanding role in the international order and global economy. Beijing’s outsize role in the World Health Organization has come under attack, as has the muscular diplomacy used by China’s foreign ministry in responding to ... Read More
Education

Science, Coronavirus, and Notre Dame

A few weeks back, the University of Notre Dame outlined its plan for reopening campus in the fall, detailing the way in which the administration hopes to bring students back to South Bend to resume in-person classes. Like the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities in the U.S., Notre Dame shifted all ... Read More
Education

Science, Coronavirus, and Notre Dame

A few weeks back, the University of Notre Dame outlined its plan for reopening campus in the fall, detailing the way in which the administration hopes to bring students back to South Bend to resume in-person classes. Like the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities in the U.S., Notre Dame shifted all ... Read More
Elections

Biden’s Middle-Class Tax Pledge

Biden is pledging not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 a year. As I note in my Bloomberg Opinion column, Democratic proposals to increase income taxes keep getting narrower in scope. In 1993, President Bill Clinton and a Democratic Congress raised income taxes on households making more than ... Read More
Elections

Biden’s Middle-Class Tax Pledge

Biden is pledging not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 a year. As I note in my Bloomberg Opinion column, Democratic proposals to increase income taxes keep getting narrower in scope. In 1993, President Bill Clinton and a Democratic Congress raised income taxes on households making more than ... Read More