Across the Street column: Adversity in diversity for the university |

Across the Street column: Adversity in diversity for the university

Joyce Rankin
Larry Laszlo

Just when we were focusing on the READ Act and its importance for success in life, we find that entrance into some colleges will include an evaluation of the applicant’s school and community environment. The College Board controversy has been widely discussed in news articles over the past month. In case you missed it here are some highlights.

The College Board, an organization that prepares and administers standardized tests for college admission, also known as the SAT, has added an “adversity score” to reflect socio-economic advantages and disadvantages for college admission. So far it has been piloted by 50 colleges and universities, and there are plans to expand to 150 colleges by 2020.

College Board president David Coleman says the “adversity index” is about finding young people who do a great deal with what they are given. They identify more than 15 factors that contribute to the score including poverty or food stamp eligibility, crime rates, broken families, single parent families, rent as a percentage of income, disorderly schools, families with education deficits, etc. Forbes magazine pointed out that race was conspicuously omitted from the new metric designed to inform admissions officers.

Transparency is a concern. There are 100 points given in the metric on adversity, and both the formula and results are proprietary. That means students are not informed of their scores and how they are calculated. Colleges and universities will know the SAT adversity score, and applicants will not. Skeptics also point out that a neighborhood doesn’t necessarily measure a student’s grit or resilience. Can you compare socio-economic background without measuring the influences of parents, siblings or mentors on a student? Because of these concerns, some students/parents are opting to take the ACT college entrance exam over the SAT.

In a Washington Post opinion piece, George Will has stated that the new metric is another step down the path of “identity politics,” putting college applicants into groups and categories, rather than evaluating them individually. He also goes on to state, “The College Board wants to solve a complex social problem that it and its test are unsuited to solve.”

Stanford University professor Sean Reardon commented that a well-educated, higher income family living in a poor neighborhood, is going to overstate the disadvantage. And there is also the consideration of international students. How will they be evaluated for admission?

So, I’ll leave it up to you. As one writer opined, will it increase fairness in college admissions? Will it help increase the diversity of enrollments? Or will it backfire, adding to Americans’ skepticism about the legitimacy of college admissions? Will it be viewed as an algorithm for political correctness, or worse, a form of handicapping that brings students with high scores more harm than good in the long run?

Please send your thoughts on this or any other educational matters you may have.

Thank you for the honor to serve.

Joyce Rankin is on the State Board of Education representing the 3rd Congressional District. She writes the monthly column “Across the Street.” The Department of Education, where the State Board of Education meets, is located across the street from the Capitol. Email her at

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