College Board Overhauls ‘Adversity Index’

New system will be based on two standards -- neighborhood and high school -- and will be available to all.

September 3, 2019

The College Board announced changes to its "adversity index" --- even before it was used.

The changes continue the College Board's effort to provide colleges with more information about the high schools attended by students who take the SAT. With more colleges dropping the SAT as an admissions requirement, the College Board is under pressure to show that it is aware of worries that the test favors those who are better off.

When the adversity index was originally announced -- after years of pilots -- in May, it received considerable criticism.

David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, said, "We listened to thoughtful criticism." He added that Landscape, as the system is now called, "provides admissions officers more consistent background information so they can fairly consider every student, no matter where they live and learn."

The changes are:

  • The system will be called Landscape.
  • While the previous system provided one score summarizing information about the student's high school and neighborhood, the new system will provide separate scores on neighborhood and high school. (The College Board released its methodology for the two scores.)
  • The scores will be available to students, not just to the colleges to which they are applying.

The measures will be added to the SAT next year and will not replace anything currently on the test.

Robert Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, and a long-standing critic of the College Board, said, "It's good that the College Board listened to the widespread criticism of their original plan and canceled efforts to assign a simplistic adversity score to each applicant. But, because the Landscape formula is based on overall averages from a student's high school and neighborhood, it still does not tell admissions offices much about the obstacles any given individual faced. And most of the data being repackaged by the College Board was previously available from high school profile reports and other sources."

It is unknown what share of colleges will seriously use Landscape.

Kaplan Test Prep recently conducted a survey of admission directors and asked them if they supported or opposed the adversity index (not Landscape).

Fourteen percent strongly supported it, 24 percent somewhat supported it, 4 percent somewhat opposed, 2 percent strongly opposed and 56 percent said they didn't know.

The survey also asked if admissions directors planned to use the test. "Definitely yes" got 3 percent, "probably yes" 15 percent, "probably not" 17 percent, "definitely not" 13 percent and "too early to tell" 52 percent.

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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