SAT Drops ‘Adversity Score’ Months After Adding It

The College Board is dropping its plans for the “adversity score,” a single score that considers students’ educational and socioeconomic backgrounds in addition to the traditional SAT scores of math and verbal skills.

The score, which was announced back in May, was meant to provide greater context around evaluating an applicant’s SAT score, allowing colleges and universities to take socioeconomic factors into consideration. 


When the College Board announced plans to launch its adversity score, it was met with widespread criticism.

One of the biggest concerns we’ve heard from families was that they wouldn’t have been able to see their adversity score, which raised the important issue of transparency,” Sam Pritchard, director of College Prep Programs at Kaplan Test Prep, says. “And in the age of the Varsity Blues scandal, we need more transparency, not less.”

In addition to transparency issues, there was also skepticism around how the score could fully capture individual experiences and hardship. 

“I regularly advise applicants who live in wealthy areas but who have worked through major personal obstacles such as the death of a parent or a sibling,” Akbar Rahel, admissions director at Prep Expert, says. “No statistic would capture how such an experience affects a student’s growth and achievement in school, or their potential contributions to the student body of a college.”

In its annual survey of college admissions officers, Kaplan Test Prep asked how colleges and universities viewed the new adversity score. 

Of the 295 admissions officers surveyed, 14% said they ‘strongly support’ the adversity score, with 14% saying they ‘somewhat support’ the score. Some 4% said they ‘somewhat oppose’ the score, with 2% saying they ‘strongly oppose.’ An overwhelming 56% said they ‘don’t know.’

Pritchard says the College Board made the right choice in deciding to get rid of the score. 

“Overall, we think it was good that the test maker apparently listened to colleges, students, parents, and educators,” Pritchard says. “They have the most at stake here.”


The College Board is now launching a modified resource tool called Landscape, which will not include an adversity score. 

According to the College Board, Landscape was created in a joint effort with college admissions officers to provide consistent, data-driven information that will allow colleges to better understand an applicant’s accomplishments in context to the opportunities available to them. 

“Ultimately, the goal is to better understand an applicant’s academic achievement within their socioeconomic environment — which touches upon deeply contentious issues relating to the overall application process,” Rahel says. 

Rather than sum up an applicant’s ‘adversity’ in one single score, Landscape will offer contextual data around a student’s background, such as neighborhood income or crime rates. 

“We’ll leave the interpretation to the admission’s officer,” College Board CEO David Coleman tells NPR. “In other words, we’re leaving a lot more room for judgment.”


A number of experts say the news shouldn’t affect how applicants approach admissions. 

“Landscape should not change any student’s admissions strategy, especially as the scores involved are out of their control since they are based on things like high school and neighborhood data points,” Pritchard says. “We continue to advise students to do their best and be ready for the SAT rather than counting on Landscape to improve their chances for admission and scholarships.”

More importantly, Pritchard says, there’s still a lot of work to be done in making the admissions process fairer. A tool, such as Landscape, is just one step closer.  

“The test maker isn’t abandoning their efforts to help colleges understand the context students come from, but they’re no longer trying to represent it in a single number,” Pritchard says. “We know from speaking with our students that diversity remains important to them. And the colleges that we have spoken with share this value of diversity. Landscape may provide colleges data that better equips them to admit the diverse freshmen classes they aspire to have, but individual colleges will decide how best to use it, if at all.”


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