SAT Adversity

July 11, 2019

Can you really put a number on ADVERSITY?

That’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves since the newly introduced Adversity Score system was announced.You may have heard the College Board made some recent changes in scoring the SAT. A 15-factor voluntary questionnaire—to assess social, financial and environmental elements in a student’s life—is now presented to students and, in theory, it is to help them score better on the SAT.

Is it fair?

You won’t see your score—only the colleges will. You will be ranked 1-100 where scores from 50 and up will indicate increasing experience of adversity.  Over the years there has been a swing towards the ACT as the chosen testing program for many students. It seems the College Board may have been searching for a point of difference to clawback some SAT market share. The intention to measure is great, but at College Prep Genius we’ve decided to wait until the dust settles. There seems to be quite some contention from all sides.

The good, the bad and the…disturbing

That’s right, there’s definitely great merit in trying to factor in social and economic differences that may have played a part in compromising the chances of students and their college placement.

The whole premise of the SAT and other testing systems is to be as objective as humanly possible. To us, measuring such moveable variables is just about as far away from objective as you can guess. And we think that’s a cause for concern.

Basically, the new system tries to quantify the (subjective) social and economic effects of your neighborhood and schooling, and then factor all that into the all-important (objective) SAT score. These elements appear to be at loggerheads.

Merit has always been at the core of all college prep-testing. You do well, you get rewarded. It’s been a system that works. Around that system is another system—of scholarships, awards and grants. These seem to be one good way to manage the adversity of many different types of students, whether because of race, hardship, income, mental or physical health, sex, minority status, age, gender and good old merit. It seems the testing of adversity is trying to “kill two birds with one stone” or even—to use another metaphor—"mix oil and water." We’re not sure it works but we’re willing to see how it all evolves.

As in most new social systems (especially those with far-reaching implications), all relevant consequences can never really be taken into account and there will always need to be tweaking.

Academic skills are only part of a student’s success. Are your abilities in this area always the slave of things like your family income, or the economic status of your neighborhood? Can you really create an index out of 100 to express hardship? Could it apply to any student in any circumstance? Does such an index unintentionally compromise great students who have little or no adversity to speak of, but just happen to live in “normal” circumstances? What would happen to your score if you’re a student of lower means living in a wealthy zip code (or vice versa)? You would want to stand out on the merits of your work, regardless.

You're probably asking yourself what is disturbing about this whole Adversity Score deal? One major thing is the black box phenomenon. With college placement, you want transparency. You need to know where you stand, how you were scored and make it as black and white as possible.Right now, the College Board has the scoring parameters under wraps. That doesn’t seem fair and it means there is little room for recourse if you don’t get the outcome you’re after.

Something I am sure should disturb any reasonable person is that much of the determination of the score is provided by the students themselves. Questions are asked of the student and they are simply asked to respond. The very concept of an adversity questionnaire means the instrument can never be objective and will provide skewed results. There are multiple problems and here are the two biggest ones. Both substantially upend the validity of the questionnaire and call into question its usefulness.

  1. 1
    Response bias. People who fill out questionnaires will often unwittingly provide inaccurate or false answers. Sometimes they answer what they would like to respond, presenting their ideal selves. If you’re being asked questions about adversity, your mind will be skewed towards enhancing those types of answers.
  2. 2
    Willful manipulation of the truth (AKA lying). The whole system is practically inviting people to game it, resulting in manipulated scores.

The result? It turns out the SAT may now no longer be the great equalizer that it has always been.

Hopefully the issues will be resolved. Either this new facet to SAT scoring will be removed or fixed. Something has to happen. This new idea is supposed to take effect in 2021 if it can survive the controversy and lawsuits.

In the meantime, remember the most important things:

  • There is no change to the SAT now.
  • You still have plenty of choices. You can take the ACT and the CLT for college entrance and scholarships. 
  • You can still apply the principles of College Prep Genius in your college preparation for success on these tests, including the SAT. Try any of the college prep exams to see how you score.

Feel reassured that your scores can be recalculated to match the ACT or CLT scoring systems. It is up to you to take the Adversity Test. Maybe the College Board will realize that families will participate in a system they have more faith in.

The SAT, and all standardized tests, are based on logic and critical thinking skills.  The notion that zip codes, race, or adversity will have any affect on a student's score is misguided. I've taught students in all socioeconomic conditions, from Title One* schools to prestigious private schools.  In my experience, standardized test scores are not skewed based on these conditions. Good test takers can be found in any school. Those who do not have a natural ability to score well on standardized tests can be taught how to do so, no matter what their background or socioeconomic surroundings.  That is what College Prep Genius has been doing since 2004.

Adversity comes in all shapes and sizes . But despite the type of adversity experienced, it is the ability to overcome it, side-step it, and cope with it, as opposed to succumb to it that will benefit the student. Trying to pair a student's objective, critical thinking ability with something as subjective as adversity to produce a "level" score is a tricky feat. If even possible.

The Good News

College Prep Genius teaches students how to think critically and answer questions correctly on the SAT.  Not only does the program work on the SAT, but also works on the ACT and CLT. By learning College Prep Genius strategies, students will be able to identify the patterns and tricks test makers use on these standardized test.  Any student can learn this.  It’s worked for tens of thousands up until now. Will you be next?

Jean Burk

Founder & Author

Jean Burk is the author of College Prep Genius and is a Fox news contributor who has been featured on many TV networks, radio shows and magazines. Both her children were homeschooled and earned incredible scholarships including free college, free grad school and free law school because of their standardized test scores.

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  1. Having read this article and having served inner city youth for nearly 30 years in preparation for exams and academic success in general, even the discussion of this point raises issues--55 miles each way and free of charge to attempt to right the wrongs that are blatant in their schools. Why not get rid of the tests period. Many spend hundreds and thousands to beat exams claimed as "fair and objective". At the end of the day, a test does not define the student but as it stands today, it does define the pathway to future income and as such it is the only reason I try to invest in tools that can broaden my students choices.

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