I took the SAT for the first time last fall. Before the test, I had a hellish month cramming math equations and literary devices into my head. After taking the test, I felt frustrated thinking that my score, just one measly number, would have such a big impact on my college applications. Now, the College Board is preparing to add another number to the mix.
Last month, the College Board announced a new scoring system called the Environmental Context Dashboard, which is more commonly referred to as the “SAT adversity score." Each test-taker will be assigned an “overall disadvantage score,” based on factors related to the student’s community, including median family income, the poverty rate, and crime rate. Controversially, the adversity score doesn’t take race or ethnicity into account.
How do other students think the adversity score will impact test-taking culture and college admissions? Here’s a conversation I had with two other teen reporters from YR Media: Lucy Barnum is a high school junior who attends private school; and Andrea Jiménez is a graduating senior, like me, who attends public school.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
On SAT preparedness:
LB: Personally, I had a tutor for my SAT. But I have a friend who did a summer thing, where you do eight hours of SAT prep a day and at the end the summer you take it.
AJ: At my school, I think I was really encouraged from freshman year to take the PSATs. And by the end of it, I probably took in total six PSATs. I do think they did kind of help, but at the same time, I don't really know how much.
MS: Well personally, my experience with prepping for the SAT wasn’t great. I knew that it doesn't necessarily define me, but it was a huge part of my application. So it definitely made me feel less confident as a college applicant.
On differing school environments:
AJ: I feel like my school is completely different. Almost everybody is on the same kind of level because we don't really tend to do that well on the SATs. We're just told it's okay if you don't get a good score. [They] stress making the other areas of your application stand out.
MS: I feel like in my school experience there was a lot of testing. And there was a sense that certain students were viewed as smarter. But for the rest of us, we can try and study as hard as possible, but we kind of feel like we need to beef up the rest of our application to be able to have a chance.
Initial thoughts on the "adversity score":
LB: I just feel skeptical about anything that the College Board does. I think it's so hard to quantify affluence or adversity. For example, one of the things that they used to rate school affluence is the amount of APs [Advanced Placement courses] that they offer. And my school doesn't offer any APs, but that doesn't mean that it's not full of really rich people. Every school is really different and every person is really different.
MS: I kind of felt like it was the College Board trying to just throw more numbers into the mix to make it seem more fair. But it's still just a number and no number can really essentially capture who a student is academically or otherwise. So I think the root of a lot of the flaws with the SAT and standardizing testing in general still exist even with the adversity score.
On comparing scores and being ranked:
MS: In a way we're kind of used to being ranked already. Like in most schools, on your transcript it literally tells you where in the class you're ranked.
LB: Like my school doesn't technically rank, but some sophomores this year [made a] list of the people who they thought were the smartest in their class. And people were like, “Oh, that's totally normal.”
AJ: Actually, I remember when I took the SAT, I was really paranoid that I got a really low score. I thought that was going to hurt my college application. So literally anybody that I could ask, I would ask what their score was so I could feel better about my score.
On how the "adversity score" is not released to students:
LB: I'm glad that they don't release it to us, just based on knowing the people that I am around every day at school — you know, a San Francisco private school. A lot of the people who are very wealthy really go out of their way to try to prove that they're like disadvantaged in some mythical way. So I'm sure that if they released it to us, people would be comparing them like SAT scores. And that would just be really disastrous.
MS: On the other hand, I personally would want to know what the score is. Because if we aren't even able to see these scores, then we'll never really know how accurate they are. And that's something that kind of scares me because if colleges and admissions officers see this score, it's another part of our application that we literally haven't seen and that we can't control at all.
On race and ethnicity:
MS: The reason that the College Board said that they didn't take race or ethnicity into account was there are certain public universities that are legally not allowed to take race or ethnicity into account. The College Board was saying that they wanted this score to still be available to those schools, so they weren't going to count race or ethnicity. I feel like there would definitely be a way to get around that.
LB: There are a lot of people in this country who really don't think that race should be counted for admission, and affirmative action should not exist. And I think that this is a sign that the College Board is kind of conforming to that norm.
MS: I feel like if the College Board's goal with this adversity score was to capture the intersection of different parts of a student's life that could possibly lead them to be disadvantaged, then race is definitely a part of that. I mean race and ethnicity just by itself doesn't really say much. But if you take that into account with all the other factors, then that can help to give a better picture of what the student is going through.
On how the "adversity score" affects the perception of standardized testing:
MS: There was definitely a lot of momentum around [colleges] dropping the SAT and ACT requirement, which might have been what prompted the College Board to create [the adversity score].
LB: I fear that colleges would be like, “Now the SAT’s fair, let's just look at [those scores]. Like it's fine now.” I'm like, that's not true. I mean it's a business. The College Board, the ACT — they're companies that want money. And [that’s] why there’s more and more tests. And more and more numbers. Because they want money. I mean, I don't see it ever really going anywhere.