College Pete

Colleges Secretly Used an Adversity ‘Curve’ to Re-calibrate SAT scores + How Your Child Was/Will Be Affected

Colleges Secretly Used an Adversity ‘Curve’ to Re-calibrate SAT scores +  How Your Child Was/Will Be Affected

I’m good for at least one rant a year… and here’s a doozy. We learned yesterday that the College Board (maker and financial beneficiary of the SAT) has both developed and then secretly ‘tested’ (pun intended) a new grading curve known as the ‘Adversity Score’.

We now know that at least 50 colleges (including FSU) utilized this new index to re-calibrate the SAT scores of its applicants this past Admissions cycle. Next year the College Board plans to roll out the program to 150 colleges.

What we don’t and won’t know (by intentional design) is what our students’ adversity ‘scores’ were or how the alternative grading score affected their ‘actual’ SAT results.  (So much for the promised admissions ‘transparency’!)  Think about it – the College Board doesn’t want to tell students or their parents or their counselors their adversity score. That tells me they know that their new curve is inherently flawed and would be challenged over and over again. And for good reason.

From what I can tell, the adversity score is intended to adjust a student’s score (up or down) to create a more competitive measure among applicants who may have faced very different levels of environmental hardship in high school. The best real-life comparison I can think of is that this new scoring ‘index’ is kind of like a handicap in golf.  Less able golfers are given extra strokes (or a handicap) so that when they play against better players, their match is still theoretically competitive. The difference is that we’re talking about a similar index for an individual student based primarily on aggregate data. That’s because the index is about school and community data and not about the individual student.

It has no place in the admissions process.

But then, I could also argue (and I have) that neither does the SAT in its current iteration – Something the College Board essentially just acknowledged with their latest ‘scheme.’ This index is a de facto admission by the biggest higher ed non-profiteer that exists (the College Board) – that its primary product (the SAT) — is simply not a valid measure of ability.  Period.

Now to most of the higher ed community (and many parents), this is not new news. Research has consistently shown that the SAT correlates more with student environment (and access to good test prep) than performance in college. Students with more resources to purchase test prep services tend to perform better on most standardized tests, and particularly on the SAT.

Colleges also know this. It’s the reason most frequently cited by those who drop the Admissions Test requirement — which has been happening in droves in the last few years. At least 1/4 of all colleges and universities – about 1000 including highly selective ones like the University of Chicago, Wake Forest, George Washington University, Smith College, Brandeis University and others no longer require these test scores from their applicants.

And believe me, the College Board is feeling the heat (as in loss of income). Colleges are dropping the requirement; ACT, the main competitor, has surpassed the SAT in market share; and the College Board’s second largest money maker, its AP curriculum, is facing increasing competition from competitors such as Cambridge (AICE) and IB.

The College Board may be a ‘nonprofit’, but trust me, they care a lot about their ‘excess revenue’ (profit). As we’ve been saying for years, higher ed, and testing in particular, is BIG (capital B) Business. So the College Board is protecting their market at the expense of your children.

I often tell my own children that if you want to get to the bottom of any complex situation, you should follow the money. So lets do that. First, the College Board redesigned their SAT and concordance scales to make it more student friendly than its rival ACT. Then they make test prep free via Khan Academy to make it even more attractive.  And now they reveal this frankly ridiculous index (positioned as a way to overcome bias built into the tests, as a response to the Test Optional movement, and as a reaction to the recent cheating scandal by a handful of wealthy families) which includes access to its very own curriculum as one of the factors – can they be more overt?

The reality is that many, if not most colleges already openly consider environmental factors when making admissions decisions. They have access to and use high school profile data when evaluating students. They ask questions on the college application about parent education level, marital status, sibling education, etc.

One of my biggest concerns in learning of the Index was about the likely unintended but significant consequences it could have on non-institutional merit scholarship programs that require minimum SAT scores, like Bright Futures here in FL, that many middle class families utilize and depend on to afford college for their children sans debt.

I’ve reached out to my colleagues to ascertain their positions, and the good news is that the College Board is already facing considerable push back. Frankly I’d be surprised if there weren’t court challenges if this Adversity Score becomes widely adopted.

Anytime the ‘rules’ to a game change, we have to adapt our strategies to ensure success. In this case, I will adapt strategies for my students to successfully navigate those new rules and continue to maximize their opportunities.  I have so much more to say about this topic, but I know this email is long enough.

At the moment, I’m reviewing test strategies for my rising 11th graders and the test results and admissions strategies for my rising 12th graders to determine whether to recommend the ACT and/or to add/subtract or re-assess certain colleges on their college lists. This is an iterative process and we’re looking to be targeting at most 12 colleges for all rising 12th graders by the time our Summer Application Program begins.

That said, this is a developing story with the potential to insert even more complexity and confusion into an already complex and confusing process. Therefore on Wednesday, May 29, we’re holding a special ‘Emergency’ live webcast to discuss all of the implications and to answer your questions (as best as I can). Click here to register and grab a seat. This webinar is recommended for all high school parents.

– Peter

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