February 24, 2024

College Board to Assign “Adversity Score” to Students’ SATs

Author: Jonny Lupsha, News Writer
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By Jonny Lupsha, News Writer

Students’ SATs will soon be bundled with an “Adversity Score,” The Wall Street Journal reported. The number, known only to college admissions officers, will indicate each student’s economic and social background. This change is due to the many factors affecting education success in and out of school.

Overview shot of diverse group of students talking and studying around table.
The educational success of students is influenced by both school factors and non-school factors. Photo by RawPixel/Shutterstock

According to The Wall Street Journal article, the adversity score will analyze 15 factors in the student’s life, from neighborhood crime rates to poverty levels. The announcement comes as the College Board faces continuing scrutiny over its selection policies in light of trends that arise based on ethnicity and economic status. The adversity score aims to account for a number of subtle elements that can affect the successful conveyance of knowledge to a student, from environment to personal responsibilities. These elements can greatly alter the outcome of the learning process and are broadly split into two categories called “school factors” and “non-school factors.”

School Factors and Teaching

“True success in education is a delicate balance between what I call school factors and non-school factors,” said Dr. Alexander W. Wiseman, Associate Professor of Comparative and International Education at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. “School factors are elements and influences that can be changed or manipulated within the education system itself.” Dr. Wiseman says that school factors include things like a school’s overall facilities and buildings as well as its resources like books and technology. “It also includes teacher characteristics like level of education and study focus during university training,” he said. “It can also include what students learn—in other words, the curriculum and how it’s taught in the classroom.”

Dr. Wiseman brought up Hong Kong as a very different, but proven method of school factors like teaching. “Hong Kong is a high-stakes education system where entrance to the best schools at each level of primary, secondary, and tertiary education is determined by highly competitive examinations,” he said. These entrance exams determine which schools students will get into at every level, beginning in primary school. “Being a student at the best primary schools in Hong Kong offers some advantage simply because of the status, or prestige, associated with it. But the even greater advantage is that teachers and students at these schools know how to best prepare for the entrance exams into the best secondary schools.” This chain continues all the way up through the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination. To put it simply, a good start leads to better schools and better teachers who thoroughly prepare the students for entrance exams to better schools at higher grade levels, where the cycle begins anew.

Non-School Factors and Learning

However, sometimes having the best teachers for the job isn’t all it takes. Dr. Wiseman said that in working for the South Africa Educational Development Initiative, he visited a school in the western cape with excellent teachers who were educated, prepared, and who had the right attitude, and plenty of experience, only to find the children still underperformed. This was because half the student body came from a middle-class background and the other half from an extremely poor squatters camp made of wooden and metal shacks that neighbored the school. These are non-school factors, which Dr. Wiseman describes as “forces and factors those educators and policymakers can’t fix, or necessarily change, because they originate outside of school. Non-school factors include such things as a family’s social status or their income, and the influence of friends and community.”

In the South African school Dr. Wiseman mentioned, the poorer half of the student body didn’t eat except for meals provided for them by the school, nor did they live the same place from one night to the next. Often victims of domestic violence and/or sexual assault, combined with other non-school factors, they struggled to make it to school at all. “As this example suggests, learning, performance, and application outside of school just isn’t possible when students can’t meet the first success indicator of learning, which is being ready to learn.”

When the College Board considers the admission of its students, school factors and non-school factors will make up the majority of their adversity scores. The adversity score will enable them to consider the student’s ability to learn and apply knowledge because—or in spite—of their circumstances in and out of the classroom, rather than the current focus on standardized test scores.

Professor Alexander W. Wiseman contributed to this article. Professor Wiseman is an Associate Professor of Comparative and International Education at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. He received his Ph.D. in both Comparative and International Education and Educational Theory and Policy from The Pennsylvania State University.

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