Americans were rightly horrified by the recent college admissions scandal involving wealthy actresses Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin and her designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, who allegedly got their already privileged offspring into elite schools by paying people to fake their athletic abilities and doctor their test scores. So far, 50 people have been charged with bribery, money laundering and document fabrication in the scheme. The feds should throw the book at them.
But attempting to tip the college admission scales in the opposite direction is not the antidote to this disgusting display of arrogance, entitlement and corruption among some of the nation’s one-percenters.
Yet that’s what the College Board is attempting to do. It recently announced plans to assign an “adversity score” to every student who takes its flagship SAT test. The 31 demographic factors that make up the 1-100 point adversity score will include crime and poverty rates in the student’s neighborhood and high school in an attempt to quantify their social disadvantage.
At a conference in Arlington last November, College Board president David Coleman said that for too long, his organization did not reinforce the message that “there are a lot of amazing people with low SAT scores,” and that low scores should “never be a veto on anyone’s life.”
That’s true. But watering down one of the few objective standards left to determine which students are ready for the academic rigors of a competitive college is a bad idea despite the good intentions.
This doesn’t mean that college admissions officers should ignore a prospective student’s history, family circumstances, or the difficulties he or she had to face—or to base their decisions on SAT scores and nothing else. They should not only encourage students from disadvantaged backgrounds with low SAT scores to apply for admission, but also to prepare themselves for the academic workload ahead by taking remedial or community college classes to improve their academic skills.
You don’t do students from disadvantaged backgrounds any favors by admitting them because you feel sorry for them, let them rack up tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, and then watch them drop out without earning a degree, as is the case with 89 percent of low-income, first-generation college students. The combination of reduced wages and student debt become a financial millstone that has resulted in 47 percent of college dropout debtors defaulting on their loans.
College is not for everybody. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, less than half of local residents over the age of 25 have earned bachelor’s degrees: City of Fredericksburg (42.9 percent); Stafford (38.7 percent); King George (34.2 percent); Spotsylvania (30.4 percent); Culpeper County (23.4 percent); and Caroline (19.2 percent).
Furthermore, the adversity scores—which pointedly don’t include race or ethnicity—will be based on census tract data, and not directly on each student’s individual circumstances. They can be extremely misleading in gentrifying urban areas where well-heeled students attending high schools with large populations of low-income peers will be given an unfair advantage—precisely what the adversity scores are supposed to prevent.
The SAT is a diagnostic tool—nothing more—to identify students who are most likely to graduate from college. Its utility lies solely in the fact that students across the country all take the same test, and that tends to cancel out things like grade inflation, social promotions and other factors that make some applicants seem—on paper—better prospects than others. It’s certainly not a measure of a student’s character or worth.
Admission officers have many other ways besides SAT scores to determine whether a particular student will be able to complete their courses and graduate with a degree. Youngsters who have already faced challenging life circumstances and prevailed likely have more grit and resiliency than their snowflake counterparts whose helicopter parents never let them fail. But that doesn’t mean they will succeed at college, particularly at an elite college with a challenging curriculum, if they enter unprepared.
College preparedness is what the SAT is designed to measure. Nothing more, nothing less. And that’s all that should be expected of it.