Q: I’ve been reading about the new SAT “adversity score.” Sounds good on the surface, but are there any potential problems?

Offered exclusively by a shadowy nonprofit called The College Board, the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is basically an entrance exam for college. It once provided an objective assessment of potential students’ intellectual abilities so colleges could have a standard by which to compare applicants across the country.

Times have changed and so has the SAT.

If you took the SAT and thought you did well, but now find your average-ish child stomping all over your score, don’t feel bad. The test has gotten insanely easier. You no longer have to know a lot of vocabulary: all the words are now given in context. You don’t have to understand complex and sophisticated relationships between words: analogies are dead and gone. It isn’t necessary to remember any nettlesome geometrical formulas: they are given to you on the test.

If you’re bad at math, you can now use a calculator. If you work slowly, a 504 Plan − easily acquired from your local school − will give you as much time as you need.

In short, the SAT has morphed into just a more complicated version of your run-of-the-mill annual middle school state assessment.

The SAT plans now to further inflate its results by providing colleges with supplemental adversity scores called “Overall Disadvantage Levels.” A number from 1 to 100 will indicate where each student stands in terms of poverty and opportunity. Higher than 50 means adversity. A score closer to 1 means privilege. Students will not have access to their scores; only colleges will. No one except the College Board will know exactly how the score is calculated.

We do know that students will have no input and that much of the data will come from home zip code and school demographics. A student from Wando High School (graduation rate: 91%) who lives in Mount Pleasant (median income: $76,202; chance of becoming a victim of a serious crime: 1 in 58) will have a much lower score than a student from North Charleston (median income: $39,446; chance of becoming a victim of a serious crime: 1 in 15) who goes to North Charleston High (graduation rate: 69%). The theory goes that the North Charleston student must have faced more obstacles and needs some help to get into college. He may have a lower SAT math and reading score, but that could be ameliorated by his adversity score.

Most people approve of colleges taking in those who have overcome serious adversity. A student who had to endure homelessness, for example, may have a perspective that could bring a lot to the table. But isn’t that what all those application essays are for, to explain your hardships to prospective colleges?

At any rate, I don’t think merely living in North Charleston constitutes a setback. Privileged people live there, too. And I happen to know there are poor people who live in swanky Mount Pleasant. In fact, I’ve taught Mount Pleasant students who have been orphaned, who’ve been abused, whose parents have been incarcerated, who have suffered cancer and whose homes have burned down.

Zip code and school name doesn’t fully tell their story. Nor does it tell anyone else’s, unless you’re psychic.

The sharpest counterpunch to the SAT’s latest veer comes from Marten Roorda, the CEO of American College Test, administrators of the ACT, the SAT’s chief rival.

“If I were a student, I would become concerned or angry if the testing company would provide an adversity score to colleges without me knowing it, without me approving it, and without any of the end users understanding how this score is calculated," Roorda said.

Roorda, in explaining why the ACT will not attempt to copy the SAT’s venture, states, “If parents, teachers and counselors know test scores will be re-equated for adversity, some will attempt to manipulate and game the system. That is easy: you can use an address of someone you know who is living in a poor neighborhood or report lower family income.”


I went through adversity in school (though I never had any thought of quantifying and comparing it to my classmates), and if I were doing it all again, I think I would refuse to take part in the sham. I’d take the ACT and leave it at that. The SAT has enjoyed a stranglehold long enough and all it’s done with its status is eliminate objectivity, flout transparency, dumb down test content, and rake in piles of cash.

Sure, some colleges might not accept me without the SAT, but who cares? I can’t help but notice that even as tuition costs have risen to crippling levels, the gap in quality between well-known, pricey colleges and lesser-known community colleges keeps getting slimmer and slimmer.

Once people figure out that kids don’t need the SAT to fulfill their dreams, maybe the College Board will get back to the simple mission of providing a high-quality, standardized test and leave the adversity apportioning to others.

Jody Stallings has been an award-winning teacher in Charleston since 1992 and is director of the Charleston Teacher Alliance. He is the recipient of the 2018 first place award in column writing from the South Carolina Press Association. To submit a question or receive notification of new columns, email him at JodyLStallings@gmail.com. Follow Teacher to Parent on Facebook at facebook.com/teachertoparent.