The New College Board ‘Adversity Score’ Explained

The College Board has developed a new data-driven tool designed to give college admissions officers the ability to evaluate test scores in light of an applicant’s educational, social, and economic background. The effort is the Board’s latest attempt to offset criticism that its tests favor the affluent, Asian students, and white students.

The new tool could also increase Latino and African American enrollment without the specific consideration of race or ethnicity, otherwise known as affirmative action, an approach that the Supreme Court might soon disallow.

So far, 50 colleges have been using the tool; it will expand to 150 later this year and be available to all schools in 2020.

The tool utilizes 15 factors (listed below) and provides a spreadsheet for admissions officers to use in analyzing the factors in relation to scores.

The new approach is certain to draw criticism, however. Students who live in relatively affluent neighborhoods, attend strong high schools, and enroll in advanced placement courses will receive low “adversity scores” and may find themselves relatively less likely to be admitted to some colleges.

Another issue: the data is based mostly on census block and other federal data, not on individual financial information. A wealthy white student might live in a gentrified neighborhood with inaccurate data indicating that it is still a lower income area. Similarly, a disadvantaged student might live just inside a census tract with high median income stats. Students will not receive a copy of the score–another area of controversy.

Students who attend highly competitive high schools in states with automatic admission based on high school class standing, such as Texas, already find it relatively harder to graduate in the top 6th or 7th percentile of their class. They are admitted “holistically” if they are not in the top percentiles; low adversity scores might narrow their chances even more. Or  help them…who knows?

On the other hand, if the new tool on its own can lead to the higher enrollment of students now benefiting from automatic admission, Texas might be able to abandon the rule altogether.

High School Information–Four Factors

  • Average senior class size;
  • Average percentage of students taking the SAT;
  • Average freshman SAT score at colleges attended by SAT-taking graduates of the applicant’s high school;
  • Percentage of students at the high school who participate in the free and reduced-price lunch program.

High School AP Opportunity–Four Factors

  • Number of unique AP courses taught in that high school;
  • Percentage of the senior class who took at least one AP exam;
  • Average number of AP Exams taken by graduates who sat for at least one exam;
  • Average AP scores across all AP Exam takers and exams.

High School Percentiles–One Factor

  • The 25th, 50th, and 75th old SAT percentiles on Critical Reading, Math,
    and Math + Critical Reading scores for graduates.

Neighborhood and High School Context–Six Factors

  • Undermatch Risk–Academic undermatch occurs when a student’s academic credentials substantially exceed the credentials of students enrolled in the same postsecondary institution.
  • Crime Risk–The Crime Risk represents the likelihood of being a victim of a
    crime–not the likelihood of committing a crime.
  • Family Stability–Family stability is a combined measure based on the proportion of two-parent families, single-parent families, and children living under the poverty line within each neighborhood, or across the neighborhoods of past students attending that high school.
  • Educational Attainment–Educational attainment is a combined measure that looks at the pattern of educational attainment demonstrated by young adults in the community. ESL participation.
  • Housing Stability–Housing stability is a composite measure that includes vacancy rates, rental versus home ownership, and mobility/housing turnover, again based on aggregate population statistics.
  • Median Family Income — Median family income is based on weighted data from the Census/ American Community Survey.

Overall context is a weighted average of the individual metrics listed above. College admissions officers receive (1) bar graphs showing the applicant’s SAT score relative to others who share the applicant’s overall percentile of neighborhood
adversity and high school adversity and (2) the average freshman SAT score of entering students at the colleges that these respective groups of students attended.

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