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Killing Education: SATs to Add ‘Adversity Score’ to Address 'Wealth Disparity' in Results

The University of Missouri is a public research university located in the state of Missouri. In 1839 the university was founded in Columbia, Missouri, as the first public institution of higher education west of the Mississippi River

Today, it was reported that the SATs are adding an “adversity score” to help colleges and university account for the various educational and socioeconomic factors that may negatively impact students’ scores. “Colleges have long been concerned with scoring patterns on the SAT that seem unfavorable to certain racial and economic groups,” explained the New York Times. “Higher scores have been found to correlate with the student coming from a higher-income family, having better-educated parents, and being white or Asian rather than black or Hispanic.”

The adversity score would be a number between 1 and 100, with an average student receiving a 50. It would be calculated using 15 factors, like the relative quality of the student’s high school and the crime rate and poverty level of the student’s home neighborhood. The score would not be reported to the student, only to college officials.

Admissions officers have struggled for years to find ways of gauging the hardships that students have had to overcome, and to predict which students will do well in college despite lower test scores.

“We’ve got to admit the truth, that wealth inequality has progressed to such a degree that it isn’t fair to look at test scores alone,” Mr. Coleman recently told The Associated Press. “You must look at them in context of the adversity students face.”

The College Board claims race is not factored into adversity scores, but the correlation between race and average SAT scores is something that has been talked about for a long time. Colleges and universities have tried to address the issue of adversity with affirmative action policies and racial quotas. Many of these policies are being challenged in the courts. David Coleman, the CEO of the College Board, attempted to justify the adversity score by saying, “We can’t sit on our hands and ignore the disparities of wealth reflected in the SAT.”

As Michael Nietzel explains over at Forbes, the College Board has yet to reveal the factors that contribute to the calculation of a student’s adversity score. But he makes an even more important point. “Measuring neighborhood adversity is not the same as assessing an individual student’s resilience or grit. Although we can’t know for sure, it’s doubtful that adversity scores measure the influence of parents, siblings, and mentors on a student,” he explained. “There’s not a straight line from socioeconomic background to SAT performance; assigning an adversity number suggests an influence that may not be operating for individual students.”

If there’s anything we learned from the college admissions cheating scandal it's that students from wealthy families aren’t automatically advantaged. These were highly advantaged kids who still needed to cheat their way into good schools because they or their parents felt entitled to success. Tests only discriminate against those who don’t know the answers.  In the wake of the college admissions cheating scandal, the last thing we need is an artificial “adversity score” to tip the scales in favor of those who don’t know the answers. It’s no less cheating than having someone give you the answers or take the test for you. Everyone has the ability to overcome adversity in their life. College is supposed to be an institution for higher learning; it’s not meant to be a club that everyone can get into. Heck, it’s not even something that everyone should feel obliged to do. Some of the most successful people in the world don't have college degrees.

People around the world used to want to come to the United States to build a new life in the “Land of Opportunity.” You could come here with just the clothes on your back and work your way up. Whatever happened to those days? America used to be about overcoming adversity, not being defined by it. Success is no longer something that people are expected to work hard for, but it is something people are increasingly feeling entitled to. This “adversity score” nonsense only exacerbates the problem, it doesn’t correct it.

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Matt Margolis is the author of The Scandalous Presidency of Barack Obama and the bestselling The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. His new book, Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama's Legacy, will be published in July 2019. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis