The College Board, the company that administers the SAT exam, said Tuesday that it would withdraw its much-debated plan to include a so-called adversity score on student test results, saying it had erred in distilling the challenges faced by college applicants to a single number.
The adversity score was made up of the average of two ratings between 1 and 100 — one for the student’s school environment and the other for the student’s neighborhood environment — that indicate the obstacles a student might have overcome, like crime and poverty. The school and neighborhood scores will still be provided to admissions officers, along with other socioeconomic information.
The change was made after a storm of criticism from parents and educators followed the announcement of the plan last spring. Many of them said it falsely suggested that a student’s achievements and challenges could be quantified as the math and verbal scores on the SAT are.
The tool was officially introduced this year and is being used by about 100 to 150 colleges and universities this fall, the College Board said. The company had plans to roll it out more widely next year.
David Coleman, chief executive of the College Board, said Tuesday that the board had heard the criticism and was bowing to it. He said the company had always believed students should be judged by more than a number, whether a test score or a disadvantage score, and that admissions officers should also consider context like personal essays, teacher recommendations and family background.
“I think it is a retreat from the notion that a single score is better,” Coleman said. “So in that sense, we’ve adopted a humbler position. That’s admitting that the College Board should keep its focus on scoring achievement. We have acknowledged that we have perhaps overstepped.”
The score was part of a larger rating system called the Environmental Context Dashboard that was provided to admissions officers along with a student’s SAT scores.
In addition to eliminating the single hardship score, the College Board changed the name of the dashboard tool to “Landscape” and said after this admissions cycle, the board would begin reporting school and neighborhood disadvantage scores to students and families. That information is currently shown only to admissions officers — another aspect of the system that drew public criticism.
The College Board has also reduced the number of factors that are considered as part of the school or neighborhood score and will list those factors on the reports.
Coleman defended the overall goal of the project, which he said was to provide colleges with a consistent way of judging the neighborhoods and schools that students came from. Admissions officers lack high school information on about 25 percent of applications, according to the College Board, and the new tool is filling that gap. “It isn’t a retreat from the notion that it isn’t about who knows you, or who knows you and your neighborhood, or where you grew up,” he said.
The adversity score was announced in May and immediately became part of the debate over the fairness of college admissions. In the past year, federal prosecutors exposed a national college admissions cheating ring in which wealthy parents were accused of paying bribes to have their children’s test and sports credentials falsified. Affirmative action is facing court challenges at Harvard and other elite colleges.
Richard Kahlenberg, an education expert at the Century Foundation, said the single adversity score did not capture the most important factor of student disadvantage: the income and education level of their parents. So he considered the change an improvement, even though people could simply average the neighborhood and school scores and still come up with the number.
Kaplan Test Prep found mixed reactions to the adversity score in a recent survey of college admissions officers. Sam Pritchard, its director of college preparation programs, said the decision to report the school and neighborhood scores to students would help preserve faith in the college admissions process.