All About The New SAT “Adversity Score”

adversity score

This May, College Board announced a brand new metric for students taking the SAT: the adversity score. This new score between 1 and 100 was created to help college admissions counselors understand more about the test-takers background – or, more specifically, the amount of advantage or disadvantage that student may have. According to the New York Times, “A score of 50 is an average level of disadvantage; higher scores mean a student has faced more adversity.”


How does it work?

The adversity score, or the environmental context measure, is calculated based on 31 different factors about a test-taker’s environment, from their high school to their neighborhood. Specific factors include things like median family income, percentage of households on food stamps, percentage unemployed, percentage of adults with less than a college degree and percentage without a high school diploma, and more. All factors are weighted equally. Per the College Board website, “The family, educational, and housing measures are based on a factor analysis of data from the American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau. Neighborhood data is based on census tracts. High school data is based on all census tracts represented in a given high school.”


How do schools use this score?

The goal of the adversity score is to diversify a school’s student body, based on factors other than race or ethnicity. In College Board’s own words, this score “provides a new lens for reading applicants” and “allows staff to see SAT scores in context.” Rather than admissions counselors making assumptions or even stereotyping an applicant, they are given a number that is based on real data, gathered in a consistent way.


What are the potential advantages of an adversity score?

The goal of the adversity score, and its biggest potential advantage, is to help admissions counselors identify students who have flourished despite adversity. The score can be used to better understand the student as a whole, in conjunction with their test score. For example, a high SAT score paired with a high adversity score can illustrate a student’s resilience and ability to “transcend” their environment.


What are the potential disadvantages of an adversity score?

There have been plenty of outspoken critics about the new adversity score. One common issue mentioned is the fact that the SAT was created with the goal of being a level playing field. By adding this new adversity score, it’s simultaneously admitting that it may not be as level as College Board claims. If it were, why would this new measure be necessary? Additionally, families with better circumstances have complained that, inevitably, their low adversity score will be a mark against them. Other critics state that by ignoring race, this score ignores a “a crucial element of academic disadvantage.”


At the end of the day, it’s unsurprising that this new adversity score is sparking debate. Is it a step in the right direction toward truly leveling the playing field, or a recipe for disaster?