The introduction of what’s been dubbed an “adversity score” by the College Board as part of its SAT testing program could provide a useful tool to college and university admissions directors — if it is not abused, a temptation that colleges and universities will hardly be able to resist.

The College Board, which administers the SAT exam, recently unveiled the Environmental Context Dashboard — some wag came up with the term “adversity score.” It claims to measure the economic and social adversity that test takers have faced based on the characteristics of their high schools and neighborhoods of residence.

The adversity score, which also will be available to colleges for students who take the separately administered ACT, is supposed to help colleges spot students who overcome obstacles. A high adversity score next to a middling SAT score reveals someone with resourcefulness, grit and determination.

According to the College Board, its piloting of this program with 50 colleges resulted in a 25% increase in poor students being accepted.

The College Board’s depiction of the characteristics of a high school and a neighborhood are a way around affirmative action, which has been prohibited in some states. A case involving Harvard’s affirmative action policy is making its way toward the U.S. Supreme Court.

Is it needed? Colleges and universities already can figure out for themselves whether a student is coming from a disadvantaged situation. Many students fill out the common application, and most families fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a laborious process that demands a family’s every financial detail. Students disclose the high schools they are graduating from, about which colleges and universities can make their own judgments.

The adversity score, to the extent that it evolves as just one way that gains a deserving student a second look from a college admissions officer, will be beneficial in a bewilderingly complex system.

What helps make higher education in America excellent are its degrees of independence and the diversity from one campus to the next. The impulse to reduce every student to a numerical rating must be resisted.

— The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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