By Larry Atkins
July 29, 2019 at 5:00 am ET
Recently, the College Board announced that it would be creating a new SAT Adversity Score, or the Environmental Context Dashboard, which is designed to assess the amount of adversity that a student has had to overcome during their young lives — including poverty, family income, median income in the student’s neighborhood, crime rates in the neighborhood, parents’ education level, housing value, AP opportunity, and whether the student has a single parent. The adversity score was piloted at over 50 schools and will be implemented in over 150 schools soon. The adversity score will not affect test scores and will only be reported to college admissions officials.
Many people, especially conservatives, have criticized the adversity scores as political correctness, affirmative action or social engineering run rampant. They see this as an improper way for minority students to get ahead of white students by taking their spots at the schools.
However, as a university professor, I believe that these claims are misguided. In general, the SAT should be de-emphasized as the main factor of college admissions. Someone’s future should not be decided solely by performance in a one day exam.
Nationwide, colleges are beginning to question the concept of standardized tests as a measure of rating potential students.
In recent years, over 1,000 colleges and universities have made SAT scores an optional part of a student’s college admissions application. Some of these major schools include: the University of Chicago, Wake Forest, George Washington, Brandeis, Bowdoin, Kansas State, DePaul, the University of Arizona, Bryn Mawr and Temple, where I teach as an adjunct professor.
According to Temple University’s website: “Temple University offers an admissions path for talented students whose potential for academic success is not accurately captured by standardized test scores … Students can continue to submit SAT or ACT scores as they have in the past, or they can choose the Temple Option and submit self-reflective short answers to a few specially designed, open-ended questions. The Temple Option gives them the opportunity to present their strengths in a different way. Typically, students admitted through the Temple Option have a 3.5 GPA or higher.”
I’ve found that ever since Temple initiated its new SAT optional policy, the high quality of my journalism students has remained the same, if not even gotten better.
The recent college admissions scandal exposed what many people have suspected over the years: that the system is rigged in favor of the wealthy and privileged. In addition, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that many more affluent students attending high schools successfully apply to get extra time and other special accommodations to take the SAT than those in poorer neighborhoods. The overemphasis on SAT scores as the main tool to admit college students has also had the effect of favoring students from more privileged backgrounds who live in neighborhoods with great public schools or can afford to go to expensive private schools. A recent Georgetown University study concluded that if colleges used an SAT-only admissions policy, it would replace 53 percent of incoming students and make college student bodies less diverse and more affluent.
I believe that any attempt to de-emphasize the importance of the SAT scores in college admissions is a worthy goal. SAT scores should not be eliminated, but they merely should be one factor in college admissions. Despite criticism, diversity should be a desired goal of a university campus. This should include diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, socio-economic, sexual orientation, urban/rural, liberal or conservative, as well as foreign students. As a university professor, I like having classes that have a diverse range of students with different types of backgrounds. This is often helpful during class discussions of controversial and social issues where getting perspectives from different types of people is valuable. For instance, I have found it valuable to have the input of both white and minority students when discussing issues such as police brutality and Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem protest.
There are some valid and constructive uses of the SAT as reflecting a current benchmark of a college applicant’s academic abilities, and it can be one indicator of how someone might eventually perform as a college student. It gives some indication as to a student’s current ability in English and Math, but it does not measure their capacity to learn in the future in college and beyond. There are many students who don’t get excellent SAT scores and end up excelling academically in college.
The SAT does not measure many important traits such as intelligence, aptitude, creativity, motivation, speaking skills, interpersonal skills, perseverance, and work ethic. Some students simply don’t test well, but they work extremely hard to get great grades. That work ethic would most likely carry on to college. Past studies consistently have shown that high school grades are better predictors than the SAT of how an applicant will do in college. For instance, a May 2018 report by Matthew Chingos published by the American Enterprise Institute demonstrated that high school students’ grade point averages are much better predictors of college graduation rates. Schools should be encouraged to continue to look at the whole picture of a college applicant’s background, including high school grades, class rank, types of courses taken, application essays, recommendations, leadership, extracurricular activities, volunteerism and community service, and campus interviews..
The new SAT Adversity Score will act as another valuable tool for college administrators to judge applicants — the extent that they had to overcome obstacles or a disadvantaged background.
According to WTVD-TV in Raleigh, Duke University and the University of North Carolina will be implementing the Adversity Score. “No student can be defined fully by a single attribute, whether that attribute is a test score, a GPA or an activity outside the classroom,” said Steve Farmer, vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions, UNC-Chapel Hill, in a statement. “For that reason, we will continue to evaluate each student individually, comprehensively, and holistically, with the information provided by the [Adversity Score] dashboard.”
Colleges should be about opening doors and providing opportunities to many people. Despite assertions by critics that the SAT Adversity score represents affirmative action, the new measure is likely to help poor white kids in rural areas just as much as it will help poor minority kids in urban areas. It will help disadvantaged students of all types of race, neighborhood, parental situation, and ethnicity. It’s a good step to de-emphasize reliance on the SAT, which is often used to close doors and opportunities to college applicants, and to consider other relevant factors as to why someone should be admitted to college. The SAT Adversity Score is an effective way to crack the door to college admission a little wider.
Larry Atkins is the author of “Skewed: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Media Bias” and teaches journalism at Temple University and Arcadia University.
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