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SATs: One Step Closer to Irrelevance

SATs: One Step Closer to Irrelevance

Excuse my naïveté, but isn’t the purpose of standardized testing to compare students by giving them the exact same exams and having the tests graded by machine to remove all subjectivity?

Imperfect, yes, but at least an attempt to have a level playing field.

In the case of the SAT and ACT, the results give colleges a quick way to compare each year’s crop of high school seniors.

Of course colleges also consider a host of other factors: high school GPAs, extracurricular activities, volunteerism, athletics, essays and personal interviews.

In fact, according to a recent piece in Forbes, “The Real Story Behind The College Board SAT Adversity Scores,” the standardized tests have fallen into disfavor in recent years. 

“…colleges are increasingly dropping the SAT requirement, and research continues to suggest that high school GPA is a better predictor of college success than SAT scores,” writes Peter Greene.

Uh-oh. Bad news for the College Board which has enjoyed a near monopoly on college entrance testing for almost 100 years.

Now, in a desperate move to stay relevant - and stay in business - the test mavens announced that they will attach a secret “adversity score” to every set of test results. 

As best I can tell, these adversity calculations will serve as mitigating evidence or as an excuse for poor performance. Adversity is based on three factors: neighborhood, family and high school environments.

Zip codes, for the most part.

The score will be shared with college admissions officers but not with the students or their parents.

That’s odd.

Shouldn’t an applicant know the degree of adversity he or she endured? 

Oh, it seems the marital status of the student’s parents will be a factor in the family environment evaluation. So a kid living with an educated, sober single mother will presumably get a higher adversity score than a more affluent kid living with two married alcoholics. 


Fact is, life isn’t fair. Kids whose parents love them have an advantage over kids whose parents don’t. Kids who grow up with books in the home have an advantage over kids who have wall-to-wall TV sets and video games. Students who are naturally good at taking tests have an advantage over kids who aren’t.

White students tend to do better on SAT tests than black students and, after some recent changes to the tests, males tend to score higher than females.

It’s impossible to make standardized testing completely fair. It’s a benchmark. That’s all.

And, as we learned recently with the Varsity Blues scandal, wealthy con artists figured out how to game the SATs by paying to have their kids’ scores changed or to have their tests corrected. (Of course those cheating hairballs are headed to prison, so there’s that.)

How hard will it be for unscrupulous folks to get cute with the adversity scores? Surely some parents will be tempted to change their address to Grandma’s - if she lives on the other side of the tracks - to gain a few adversity points. Shoot, how long until consulting firms crop up to help students boost their adversity scores?

If the SAT is so unfair that adversity scores are needed to pump up results, it’s time to kill the tests.

Long past time, probably.

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