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The College Board, responsible for administering the SAT, announced the addition of a new index commonly known as an “adversity score” in an attempt to quantify a student’s overall disadvantage level and help college admissions officers gather a more complete picture of an applicant’s background. The University of Michigan was one of the 50 universities and colleges who piloted the program in the 2018-2019 admissions process.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the University plans to continue to use the adversity score in future admissions decisions.
“We are pleased that the College Board is providing additional data to institutions that support our pursuit of better understanding our applicants’ academic potential and educational context,” Fitzgerald wrote. “Context matters in understanding the myriad experiences and adversities that our students have encountered and still achieved within. Our admissions processes benefit from this information.”
Officially referred to by the College Board as the “Environmental Context Dashboard,” the adversity score will consider 15 factors relative to the student’s home life, local community and strength of school district. Determinants include poverty rate, local crime rate, median income and the availability of Advancement Placement classes, among others.
Students will not be able to view their adversity grade, and the information considered in the score will be based off data from the student’s area, not individual information. Students can receive a score up to 100, with a higher score representing higher adversity.
Colleges among the 50 that have adapted this program — in addition to the University — include Yale College, Florida State University and Trinity College.
Critics of the score have taken issue with its lack of data on an individual level, arguing it could potentially overstate or understate the adversity a student has faced. Similarly, many are concerned the score leaves out internal factors such as stressors on both physical and mental health.
Proponents have said, although the score is not a perfect indicator, it gives admissions officers a better understanding of an applicant’s background than they would have had without it.
Previous trends in admissions at the University show an increase in economic and racial diversity. According to an October report by Public Affairs, 2018 fall enrollment included a greater proportion of economic diversity and underrepresented students with a 14.8 percent increase in underrepresented minorities and 6 percent increase in freshmen enrollment from those with incomes of $65,000 or less. This uptick also follows the implementation of the Go Blue Guarantee, an initiative granting full tuition coverage for in-state University students with a yearly income of less than $65,000 a year.
Many have compared the adversity score to affirmative action. Affirmative action was questioned by some who thought it favored people based on the color of their skin rather than the merit of their actions.
As decided by voters through a 2006 ballot proposal, Michigan is one of eight states with laws making the practice illegal. However, the University has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to diversity while aligning with the law.
Race and ethnicity are not included in the 15 factors used in determining the adversity score. Because of this, many in the college admissions world see the score as a way to factor diversity into the admissions process in states like Michigan where affirmative action is illegal, or if the practice were to be ruled unconstitutional nationally.
"We look forward to learning more about the adversity score and its impact as we continue to use all legal opportunities to provide a Michigan education to a diverse student body," Fitzgerald wrote.
Professor of Education Michael Bastedo, whose research contributed to the score’s creation, said the new addition is not formally considered Affirmative Action and may still be used in states with bans on affirmative action such as Michigan. However, Bastedo acknowledged how it could be seen as a form of class-based Affirmative Action favoring the disadvantaged student over one who did not have to overcome as much to earn the same credentials.
“There is a reality that admissions is zero-sum,” Bastedo said. “If you’re admitting one student and you’re not increasing enrollment, then you’re not admitting someone else.”
Bastedo said in his preliminary research, all the adversity score did was destigmatize applications coming from schools unfamiliar to the admissions officer. He said a high adversity score was not “free points” tacked onto a low-income student’s application, but rather a more comprehensive measurement of what they were able to accomplish given the resources they received.
“I think, hopefully, it is evening the playing field a little bit, but I don’t think anyone should feel penalized by it,” Bastedo said. “If you happen to be a wealthier student and you’re doing good work and you’ve accomplished a lot, you’re going to get into a good college and you have just as much of a chance at being successful as anyone else.”
In a statement to The Daily, Kaplan Test Prep expressed support for the addition of the adversity score, though the company is uncertain of how the score could be calculated efficiently.
“We are in support of this type of metric if it creates greater opportunities for underserved students and helps level the playing field for those who might otherwise not have access,” the email stated. “In fact, Kaplan was founded by the son of immigrants who believed that all students should be given the opportunity to put their best foot forward, no matter what their background. But it would be helpful to better understand the research behind the scoring system, as there’s no transparency in how it’s being calculated. To that end, it remains to be seen how admissions officers will evaluate an adversity score relative to the more traditional admissions factors.”
LSA juniors Jason Fernando and Arnav Ramu founded Excel Tutoring, a test-prep service located in Troy, Mich., when they observed their classmates were complaining they could not afford test prep services. They began looking for an alternative solution to allow students to get the education they needed without spending a great deal of money.
“In today’s society, it is not sustainable to use monetary status as a barrier to receive education,” Fernando said. “This is further compounded by the fact that many public schools do not have the infrastructure to provide test prep for students, leaving the affluent to seek advantageous private help. With top universities in the country becoming more competitive to be admitted into, this cycle has perpetuated to what it is today.”
According to a 2017 College Board press release, studying for the SAT for 20 hours on free official SAT practice on Khan Academy can lead to an average score increase of 115 points. For $1,349, with an expert instructor, four practice exams, 24/7 on-demand tutoring and personalized study plans tailored to students, test-takers can get a “guaranteed” score of over 1400, according to the Princeton Review.
As many students of low-socioeconomic status cannot afford extra test prep and guaranteed scores of 1400, Fernando is optimistic the adversity score will help even out this imbalance.
“In a perfect world, our society would be purely based on merit and a score from the SAT or ACT would perfectly correspond to the intelligence of an individual,” Fernando said. “However, that’s not the case. Various socioeconomic, racial and geographical circumstances can affect the environment and upbringing of a child which results in the fact that these tests can find out more about a student’s socioeconomic status rather than their intelligence … With the SAT’s adversity score, the College Board is creating a more in-depth analysis of how a child is expected to perform based on their environment.”
The average SAT score during the 2018 fall admissions period at the University ranged from 1380 to 1540. The average score on the SAT in 2018 for Black students was 946, and 990 for students identifying as Hispanic or Latino.
Fernando hopes that, with the implementation of the adversity score, the University will foster a more economically and ethnically diverse ecosystem — something he said it currently lacks.
“The University of Michigan itself has always been furthering this problem,” Fernando said. “It is important to realize that many groups in the history of this country have been systematically oppressed, and the only way to remedy this is to implement systematic ways to bring them up.”