Is the SAT’s new ‘adversity score’ a privilege check or blow to faith in college admissions? – California

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College applicants, here’s one more way you’ll soon being judged: your level of adversity.

This week’s revelation that the producer of the SAT entrance exam is adding an “adversity score” to boost disadvantaged students added gas to the bonfire of public faith and anxiety over college admission fairness.

It comes at a time when Asian-American applicants have sued Harvard alleging they were rejected because of their race, while dozens of rich parents have been charged with paying to cheat on their kids’ entrance exams and bribe college coaches to ease their progeny into top schools.

“This will add to the uncertainty for a few years, which will likely only fuel anxiety around admissions,” said Gordy Steil, a private college admission counselor in Berkeley.

The College Board, which administers the SAT and AP tests, devised the new metric in part to counter criticism over persistent disparities in scores, which average higher for students who are Asian or white and whose families are rich and educated. The new measurement is based on 15 factors, including family wealth, crime rate and poverty levels in the student’s neighborhood and high school rigor and competitiveness, as well as proprietary College Board data. It is shared only with colleges, not students.

“About time!” tweeted Navneet Johal, a new parent and director of higher education at Salesforce.org in San Francisco, which provides technology services to nonprofits, educational institutions and philanthropic organizations.

Those who have long criticized the SAT called it an effective admission that the test, touted as a check on high school grade inflation to ensure graduates’ abilities match their GPAs, favors those with the means to afford private prep courses and should be scrapped.

“This latest initiative concedes that the SAT is really a measure of ‘accumulated advantage’ which should not be used without an understanding of a student’s community and family background,” said Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

But others decried it on social media as merely a new tool for top colleges to move farther away from admission based purely on objective achievement.

“Do you have good parents? Sorry your application has been denied,” tweeted Jorge S. Ortiz, a business development manager at North Side Community Federal Credit Union in Chicago.

University admission officials and private college application consultants, however, questioned whether it would have much impact, as the score is largely based on information already readily available and widely used by universities to contextualize applicants GPAs and test scores.

“I used to be an admission officer at a school that cared deeply about diversity, and we worked hard to dial that into the admission process,” said Steven Mercer, a former University of Southern California admissions officer who now runs his own consulting business. “It wasn’t a mystery how we could do that. I don’t think it’s rocket science. Admission offices know how to factor in these things if they care to.

According to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the new scoring metric, the College Board began developing it in 2015, with 50 colleges trying it out last year, and plans to expand it to 150 this fall.

The new tool does not factor in a student’s race but is targeted more as a predictor of “resourcefulness.” However, some critics argued that it would give colleges a means to get around laws or court rulings barring race-based admission.

Mike Sexton, vice president of enrollment management Santa Clara University, said it was not among the schools that have used the new metric but said it seemed redundant to work they already do.

“Quite frankly most of us have no problems identifying cities and schools where students face adversity,” Sexton said. “It’s hard to convince most of us you need this to do that.”

Sexton also noted that the nonprofit College Board is in a competitive business with the rival ACT and also facing a number of campuses that are making such exams optional in response to criticism of the gap between rich and poor student scores.

“They’ve been losing market share to ACT and test optional schools,” Sexton said, adding the adversity score might be an appealing new product to make it easier for colleges to assess the relative challenges of students’ home environments.

At the University of California, an Academic Senate task force is reviewing the use of standardized tests in admissions. University of California spokeswoman Claire Doan said that “a few UC campuses have indicated an interest in piloting use of the College Board’s Environmental Context Dashboard data to assess the value of the information.”

Irena Smith, a Palo Alto private college admissions consultant in one of Silicon Valley’s most desirable towns, said that while she hasn’t heard any concerns yet from any clients, she worries about the tone such a metric sets.

“The part about it I find objectionable is that it sets up students who have resources to feel bad about themselves,” Smith said. “A lot of those kids use their position of privilege and resources to help other people. It just seems very heavy-handed and clumsy to me.”

Oakland college consultant Barbara Austin of College Quest said her Silicon Valley clients probably won’t like the new metric but said it could be beneficial as long as it’s truly objective, which she added is hard to determine because the number-crunching is proprietary.

“Wealthy kids from good schools do definitely have an advantage,” Austin said. “I think an objective rating is a good idea. The problem is, what is objective?”

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