College Board CEO defends “adversity score,” saying SAT “doesn’t measure what you’ve overcome”

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Defending the decision to assign an “adversity score” to college applicants taking the SAT, College Board CEO David Coleman said Friday that the standardized test doesn’t measure what students have overcome in their personal lives.

The College Board plans to add the “adversity score” to the profile of every college applicant who takes the exam. The score will reportedly reflect each student’s family income, environment and educational differences in an attempt to level the playing field of the admissions process. The score will not consider an applicant’s race.

According to the Wall Street Journal, 50 schools received the scores as part of a beta test last year. Approximately 150 more colleges are expected to see them this fall.   

“What the SAT is is a valid measure of your achievement: what have you learned in reading and math, how ready you are for college,” Coleman said on “CBS This Morning.” “But what it doesn’t measure alone is, it doesn’t measure what you’ve overcome–the situation that you achieved that in.”

The data can be used to measure a student’s resourcefulness, Coleman said, and see if they’ve “done more with less.” But he emphasized that it’s not a personalized adversity score; instead, it’s a measure of the school and neighborhood in which a student has been raised.

Coleman offered an example of a young woman from a small school in Mississippi. When compared with one college’s other applicants, her SAT score was about average. But when viewed in the context of her environment, the college realized she’d scored 400 points higher than any of her peers at her school.

“The world she lived in was rife with poverty,” Coleman said. “It’s a small school, without a lot of advanced opportunities. But she made the most of it.”

He also rejected the idea that the data was a “score.”

“I think calling it a score is kind of a mistake,” he said, adding that “it’s really a general background. So every kid in the same school or the same neighborhood gets the same background information. We use no personal data.”

“Don’t colleges have access to that information already?” “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King asked.

“They have some data,” Coleman said, adding that colleges currently rely on “a jumble of evidence,” like school profiles, to help piece together an applicant’s background.

“All we’re doing is providing it in a more fair way,” he said. “So schools that might not have as much resources to make their profile and might not be as well known to admissions officers can be seen in the same light … There’s so much more talent than we can see, than by using scores alone.”

The announcement comes after a massive cheating scandal rocked the admissions world. Wealthy families were accused, among other things, of falsely designating students for special testing accommodations as part of a scheme to unfairly boost their scores.

Coleman said the College Board has “closed the loophole” and that in cases where students truly do need special accommodations he’ll ensure their identity “is proven several times over.”

The College Board plans to release a detailed breakdown of how the values are calculated by 12 p.m. Friday. Coleman added that the organization has considered providing the scores to families, but isn’t yet sure.

“The thing is, it’s no insight to families that they don’t have many resources,” he told “CBS This Morning” co-host John Dickerson. “This is not a revelation. Let’s be honest here. What’s exciting — what gets interesting — is those students who despite those situations, nonetheless achieve so much.”

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