New SAT ‘Adversity Scoring’ Will Only Create More Adversity

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From the day I had to supervise a charter school lottery in a poverty-stricken community- and watched parents and grandparents weeping and begging when their child didn’t win a spot- I have been a passionate advocate for school choice, particularly for the black community. It seemed strikingly obvious to me that black children would not have to be in this unthinkable position – crossing their fingers for a lottery spot in a decent school – if they simply had the choice to attend school wherever their parents felt was best. It has never seemed fair to me that a person’s zip code should determine their access to educational opportunity.

Typically we think about this idea in terms of the rich shutting out the poor, but a new strategy for judging SAT scores throws the old stereotype out the window. In this newest scheme to “even the playing field” the College Board (which oversees SAT testing) has decided they will add a new “adversity score” when grading their college entrance exams. The intention is to add points to the grades of students who come from areas that score higher on the “adversity” scale . It will take into account crime rates, poverty rates and property values.

At face value it may seem an attractive prospect. After all, kids in wealthier areas have financial access to SAT tutors and prep classes. Low income families don’t have the luxury and must depend on their child’s intelligence alone…a shocking concept, I know.

I suppose the hope is that the new scoring will level that playing field a bit. To me it seems just another form of discrimination and as my family prepares our son to navigate the college admissions field the news made my heart drop, for a number of reasons.

I was just as outraged as everyone else to hear of the college bribe scandal that ensnared celebrities like Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. I immediately thought about all the spots for deserving students that their greed and selfishness took away. We tell low-income students that they just need to work hard, study hard and tick all the extracurricular boxes and they’ll be rewarded with a college placement. As it turns out, the truth is that they can work as hard as they want but they can still be passed over in favor of someone who would just pay cash for the spot…the very same “someone” who will go on to be a social justice warrior and advocate for more government spending to help those poor, inner city kids that just need a fair shake. It is infuriating.

It is no more “just” to provide students with advantages in test scoring because they come from a poor neighborhood than it is to give them advantages for coming from a rich neighborhood. Just like the bribery scandal blatantly pushed out people of a certain economic class who will never have the full picture of why they were rejected, so does “adversity scoring” push out people in ways that can become horribly problematic in a short time.

Take our family, for instance. I believe our circumstance represents a lot of minority families across the country. My husband and I were both raised in low-income families and he himself was raised in a high crime, inner city environment. When we married we also settled in that same area that was still riddled with all the same problems of his youth. We invested in the community and did our best, but as our children grew it became more difficult to conceive of raising them for their entire lives there. We eventually moved to the suburbs of California where we spend every spare penny paying for a residence in an area that offers good schools and good opportunity. We are not rich. Most people in southern California (and places like San Francisco) live paycheck to paycheck. It isn’t unusual at all. We make that sacrifice in the hopes that the trade off will be future opportunities for our children. We worked and continue to work very, very, very hard to stay here…for our children.

As my son applies to colleges, the new adversity scoring will adversely affect him. On paper it will look like he is someone he isn’t, and lives a lifestyle he doesn’t. And he will be punished for that even though he’s worked incredibly hard at school and in volunteering and has scored incredibly well on his PSATs so far (proud mom alert!). The scoring won’t show the adversity he/we left behind so he could have a better life. It won’t show the adversity we still face every day as middle-class parents being squeezed to death in one of the highest taxed states in the nation. It won’t show the adversity we still face being a black family in an area where there really aren’t many. It won’t show the adversities we’ve faced at school, work, in our family and in our community.

I won’t lie – it stings like hell to think we’ve sacrificed so much to move to a place where our son can have a more peaceful life and now he will actually be punished for not staying in ghetto.

Even if he were still back there, I’ve never wanted my children to be judged for anything other than their work ethic and their character. It’s just as painful to think that people might be denying him opportunities because of his race as it is to think he might be given unfair advantages because of his race. He’s a wonderful kid. He’s earned the right to be treated according to his efforts. He deserves to be treated as a man, like any other.

The College Board says the scoring will be confidential, meaning – like those students ousted by the self-absorbed dollars of Lori Loughlin and cohorts – rejected students will never have the dignity of knowing why their hard work wasn’t enough to get into the school of their choice. They’ll never have a chance to appeal or correct an error or make their case that perhaps their lives aren’t as cushy as the Board thinks they are on paper. Talk about injustice.

If we’re worried about widening the path for all income levels to access college, let’s talk about practical solutions. These people want to lecture us about testing disparates and social justice, but how about taking on the issue of why college is so damn expensive in the first place? You want to level the playing field? Lower the cost.

Or how about we get rid of standardized testing altogether and let personality testing replace it? Or how about we only judge applicants based on volunteer work? Everyone has access to volunteer work. Or how about we give students the advantage earlier in their lives by letting them choose their schools according to their needs, not zip codes?

Or we  could stop pandering and let the test speak for itself. If you want to help low-income students be better prepared then offer them free tutoring or scholarships for PSAT counseling and testing. Raise the bar and then offer a hand up.

“Adversity scoring” is just more bowing to the golden calf of identity politics and identity politics has done more to erase the identity of people than any other social system in our nation’s history. It is destroying our families, our workplace and even our college entrance exams.

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