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What Is An "Adversity" Score?

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Since the College Board recently announced the gradual rollout of their new contextual index, dubbed the "adversity score," numerous parents have inquired about this latest quantitative measurement and how it might impact the perception of their student in the Admissions Office.  "Will my child be regarded more or less favorably?  Will living in a more highly-resourced community make my child look indulged -- or even 'spoiled'? If I move to a different neighborhood, how will it affect my high schooler and younger kids?" What influence will this numerical value have on admissions outcomes for the majority of students taking the SAT?

For most students the index, formally referred to as the Environmental Context Dashboard will, on its own, likely not have a major impact and, like all elements that go into a holistic reading of a college application, will be reviewed in broader context. 

The Stated Intention

In recent years the College Board, along with other major players in the sphere of higher education, has begun to publicly comment on the reality of how socio-economic advantage directly contributes to higher standardized test scores as well as a likelihood of admission to more selective institutions.  For the many students who either live and/or attend high school in less resourced or socially-challenged cities or neighborhoods, the "adversity score" aims to shed light on the environment many of our students have had to manage, thereby allowing greater insight to the context in which these peers live and learn.  

The index aims to quantify a student's neighborhood, family, and high school educational environment while excluding considerations of race.  The numerical value comes from an analysis of census data along with information the College Board collects.

Students do not see their dashboard score, adding to the opacity of this number and its impact on admissions.

Bottom Line

In my view the College Board, referencing their strength in student data collection, is attempting to repurpose the copious amounts of student data they collect via each test registration.  My sense is that this rollout is more about monetization of data on behalf of the College Board rather than a substantive element that will significantly impact how the vast majority of colleges will evaluate admissions files.  The College Board appears to be attempting an approach of quantifying students' living and learning environment.  But ask anyone how their living and learning experience could effectively be boiled down to a number?

Beyond quantifying elements too nuanced to be calculated, most important is that all students receive a fair and contextual evaluation of their applications and are reviewed in view their potential to succeed at any institution.  In sum, every individual, professional and institution dedicated to the mission of higher education should be vigilant that all students are awarded the opportunity to attain their potential to study, learn and engage.

Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC and can be reached via

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