SAT Adversity Score is an Antidote to Poison None of Us Need Take

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Let’s say someone gave you a vial of poison.


Would you drink it? Of course not.


What if he gave you the antidote, too. Would you take the poison then?


Heck no!


Why would anyone knowingly ingest poison even if they knew they could counteract its effects?


But that’s pretty much the situation high school students across the country are in today with the SAT test.


The College Board has admitted that the test unfairly assesses students – especially poor and minority students. However, if we add an “adversity score” to the raw score, then voila! Fairness!

The organization is piloting a program at 150 colleges and universities to adjust SAT scores to account for high schools and neighborhoods “level of disadvantage.”

The program is called the “Environmental Context Dashboard” and has been in the works since 2015 at the request of colleges. It provides admissions officers with information about students’ neighborhoods and high schools, such as the poverty level and the availability of challenging coursework. This is supposed to allow them to put raw scores into context before making admissions decisions.

But even if this actually remedies the inherent racial and economic biases inherent in the 93-year-old assessment, why take the bloody thing in the first place!?


The College Board is a 119-year-old organization boasting 6,000 member colleges, universities and other organizations. And despite its nonprofit status, it does make an awful lot of money.

The organization’s annual revenue is more than $750 million, according to its most recent publicly available 990 form. The organization’s CEO David Coleman makes $750,000 a year, its President Gaston Caperton makes more than $1.5 million a year, and 22 other employees earn at least $200,000.


Nice work if you can get it.


As such, the College Board needs to ensure millions of teenagers keep taking its moneymaking test as they apply to institutions of higher education. But more than 1,200 colleges and universities no longer require students seeking enrollment to take the SAT and among those that do the upstart ACT test is gaining popularity and market share.


The SAT’s new adversity score is a marketing tool – nothing more.


It’s the act of rats trapped in a corner. They’re admitting everything critics always said about them and offering a white flag.


We have no need to take it. In fact, we would be incredibly stupid to do so.


What the world needs is not an adversity score to counteract all the bad things the SAT does. It needs the absence of the SAT and all such standardized gatekeeper assessments.


Coleman is infamous as the father of a number of failed education reforms including the Common Core.


It’s absolutely hilarious to hear him admitting the biases of standardized testing since he’s been one of its leading proponents since the 1990s. It’s like hearing Colonel Sanders admit he doesn’t really like fried chicken all that much.


In the case of the SAT, he said colleges need to recognize student qualities that the test can’t capture, such as resourcefulness. Essays, letters of recommendation, and the “profiles” most high schools post sometimes capture the challenges and circumstances students face, he said, but in many cases colleges don’t find this information because they’re blinded by students’ tests scores.


Without a tool like the dashboard, he said, “the SAT could be misleading.”




“To warrant that the playing field is now level isn’t right or just,” Coleman added. “In the America we live in … the vast majority of students are working with a lot less than the top third. To then say that the SAT is enough to reflect what you can do, no, it isn’t.”

All of which begs the question of why we need the SAT test at all.


Why not just look at those essays and letters of recommendation. Look at student extra curricular activities, employment record – heck! – grades!


Classroom grades represent 180 days worth of data compiled by multiple educators over at least 12-13 years.


Admittedly, they aren’t completely objective but neither are standardized test scores. We do not have the power to crack open children’s skulls and see what’s going on in their brains. But classroom grades offer exponentially more data and of a much more equitable kind.


If all of that isn’t enough to make admissions decisions, then nothing will ever be.


But let’s be honest. This isn’t about the needs of schools or students.


It’s about the needs of big business enterprises like the College Board and the standardized testing companies; it’s about their need to turn a profit.


THAT is what this adversity score is out to save.


We’ve been criticizing the SAT and similar standardized assessments since they were first implemented in 1926. They were the creation of group of psychologists led by Robert M. Yerkes and Carl Brigham.


They were eugenicists who believed that white Europeans were superior to all others and used their pseudoscientific assessments to “prove” their biases. If there’s any doubt of that, I refer you to this passage from Brigham’s seminal work A Study of American Intelligence:

“The decline of American intelligence will be more rapid than the decline of the intelligence of European national groups, owing to the presence here of the negro. These are the plain, if somewhat ugly, facts that our study shows. The deterioration of American intelligence is not inevitable, however, if public action can be aroused to prevent it.”


Yerkes added:


“We should not work primarily for the exclusion of intellectual defectives but rather for the classification of men in order that they may be properly placed.”

It’s no wonder that the SAT is biased. Its creators were, and their assumptions about human nature still underlie the entire standardized testing enterprise.


No adversity score will ever undue that.


There comes a time when we need to simply stop the stupid racist crap we’ve been doing for generations – not try to prettify it so we can keep cashing in.


These sorts of conversions of scores have been tried before and routinely criticized as inaccurate.


The College Board tried something similar in the late 90s called the “striver’s tool.” It identified students who scored higher than expected based on racial, socioeconomic, and other data.


But it was shut down after it became a political football comparable to that of affirmative action – the same that has happened among certain conservatives with the new adversity score.


We’ve been engaged in unfair standardized testing for almost a century now.


Isn’t it time we admitted our mistake and moved on?


Or should we just keep drinking our poison and chasing it with a dubious antidote while our betters count their dirty money?



Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!



33 thoughts on “SAT Adversity Score is an Antidote to Poison None of Us Need Take

  1. “It’s the act of rats trapped in a corner. They’re admitting everything critics always said about them and offering a white flag.”

    Nah, they’re not admitting anything, they’re just “adjusting the scores”, albeit through a probably pre-determined marketing strategy. The College Board is good at giving lip service to equity issues, always has been. But the whole kaboodle is a completely invalid means of evaluating students-as shown by, yep you guessed it Steven, Noel Wilson in his never refuted nor rebutted 1997 dissertation “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error”. (Had a chance to get to reading that yet?)

    “Admittedly, they aren’t completely objective but neither are standardized test scores. We do not have the power to crack open children’s skulls and see what’s going on in their brains. But classroom grades offer exponentially more data and of a much more equitable kind.”

    They aren’t even slightly objective-never have been and never will be. One of the many onto-epistemological errors and falsehoods that Wilson points out that serve to completely invalidate using the results for anything. While a student’s grades are a better indicator, they too suffer from the same errors and falsehoods identified by Wilson. At least, for the most part I’d say, there is no pretense to objectivity.

    Keep after em!


    • Duane, the fact that they admit the scores need adjusted is, itself, an admission of their fallibility. They’ll undoubtedly try to spin it differently, but we know better. It is up to us to call them out.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, I agree that Colleges should be looking at student grades along with recommendations and extra curricular activities, BUT…. what happens in districts (like mine) that have adopted AP for all? AP is just another awful College Board “product” and the grades in these AP classes don’t mean a darn thing except that the student is able to regurgitate the answer for the AP exam. The College Board needs to be exposed for the racist fraud that it is. Every one of it’s “products” needs to get a flush down the toilet because it’s nothing but a load of crap.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa, I haven’t taught AP in more than a decade, and when I did, it sounds like it was much different than what you describe. However, perhaps we just need to oppose standardization in all of its forms.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Once someone is making a lot of money off a product, it doesn’t seem to matter to them how many people they hurt: tobacco, sugar, the Ford Pinto, fast food, the Opioid Epidemic … the list goes on and on and on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lloyd, that does seem to be a huge problem with capitalism. It’s like in “Jaws” how the mayor refuses to close the beaches because of the economic impact it would have despite the risk of shark attack. We need to get beyond our limiting economic systems to a true valuation of our common humanity.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. – The College Board’s 990 informational tax return for calendar year 2017 was just posted online at — in that year, the Board took in over one BILLION dollars in total revenue, generating almost $140 million in annual “un-profits.” As of December 31, 2017 the company held $1.3 BILLION in net assets

    – From the same tax return document: David Coleman’s total yearly compensation exceeded $1.5 million in 2017; 11 other College Board executives received more than $400,000 each

    – More than 1,025 accredited bachelor-degree granting colleges and universities now will make admissions decisions about all or many applicants without regard to ACT/SAT scores —

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Happened to be listening to a forum on NPR this week on this topic with David Coleman as one of the panelists. And of course, the first caller was a graduating high school student from Nebraska who strongly implied reverse discrimination–whatever that is. Coleman’s doublespeak reminded me a lot of the interview that Anderson Cooper did with a Facebook executive shill justifying the continued running of the doctored Pelosi video. Amazing what lies money will drive people to make.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s funny how white people turn methods to increase fairness into methods to discriminate against them. And the adversity score BS plays right into it. Yet if we got rid of the testing altogether there is no mechanism to dispute. It avoids the politics and goes right to equity and sanity.


      • I think if we got rid of testing completely the assessment of academic ability would be solely based on admission staffs prejudices about the quality of high schools. A 3.9 GPA at a suburban high school might well be seen as indicating a higher ability student than a 3.95 GPA at an inner city high school. There would be no way for the student from the inner city school to overcome this prejudice.


      • TeachingEconomist, that’s why we’d have to continue to examine who admissions officers were offering enrollment to and from what backgrounds they come from. If anything, you’ve offered an excellent rationale behind affirmative action.


      • @Teachingeconomist…..So now the only way that the system can control the “quality” of the education is to push for Common Core curriculum in every state? Sorry, but CC has been a horrible experiment gone wrong for the past 5-10 years. It’s CC skills that are aligned with SAT and AP and the fact that the test scores need to have an adversity factor added, means that CC isn’t working. But let’s just stay the course with this disaster and this vicious cycle of making money for non-profits? The whole sham needs to come falling down and thrown to the trash heap. A big “Do Over” is the only thing that will make this ALL go away. Kill CC, kill the testing regime.

        Liked by 1 person

      • LisaM,

        I am an advocate of using as much information as possible to evaluate students for admission. That includes standardized test scores like ACT, SAT, SAT subject exams, and AP exams. It also includes teacher assigned grades, teacher’s written evaluations, a student’s socioeconomic background, and so forth.

        I also keep in mind the institutions needs for the community it is trying to construct. If it wants to have a variety of majors, it can not admit only students interested in STEM fields. If it wants an orchestra, it must admit people who play the correct instruments.


      • Nice one, TE. So use all the data. Never mind if some of it is biased by design. Of course instead we could just use valid data and disregard the crap, but then how would economists and business majors get into college? I can’t face palm myself enough.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Steven,

        Does the systematic bias in teacher assigned grades mean we should ignore them or does it mean we should use them keeping in mind that teachers given African Americans lower grades?


      • TE, if you can’t see a difference between assessment done by a human being in the room trying his or her utmost to be fair and a standardized system designed to be unfair, then you will never understand where people fighting high stakes testing are coming from. No system is perfect or free from bias. But that doesn’t mean they are all equally biased or imperfect.

        Liked by 2 people

      • “systematic bias in teacher assigned grades”

        Prove that there is bias in teacher-assigned grades.

        Prove it! Do you hear me roar when I ask you to prove this is an endemic problem in K-12 public education?

        While it might be true in a few cases, most teachers base their grades on the work the students complete and turn in and for some teachers that include quizzes and test scores.

        I know for a fact that most of the teachers I worked with for thirty years (1975-2005) used a system where students earned their grade by the word they completed.

        I did.

        For instance, if there were 50 assignments in one quarter and a student only turned in five of them, after the numbers were crunches the grade would be a FAILING grade for not doing the work required to demonstrate the child is making an effort to learn.

        In the district where I worked, we were required to provide the method we used to grade students and the district provided a grading program. When a student completed an entire assignment that was worth, lets say, 10 points, then those points were imputed into the grading program.

        Classwork was worth about 70 percent of the total grade.
        Homework 20 percent
        Tests and quizzes 10 percent.

        Most if not all teachers inputted grades and numbers into the grading program and hit the print button and WOW!, the grades printed out without any way for bias to get in the way.

        Grading for most if not all teachers is not a guessing game based on bias.

        Grading is a numbers game based on work completed – not voodoo based on a teacher’s emotions. Some teachers might value test scores more than others but those scores were also numbers based on how well a student did on the test or quiz.

        Every student no matter what their ethnicity, color of skin, religion or sexual preference, was graded on an equal scale. The only way bias would enter in was if a teacher changed the grades up or down from that printout for specific students — for whatever reason.

        Liked by 3 people

      • I clicked the link and there was no mention of teacher bias.

        What I saw was a graph starting in 1999 to 2009 that showed steady improvement for all major ethnic groups: Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and Asian Pacific Islanders even though the ratios of poverty among Blacks and Hispanics have only become worse.

        “In the United States, 39 percent of African-American children and adolescents and 33 percent of Latino children and adolescents are living in poverty, which is more than double the 14 percent poverty rate for non-Latino, White, and Asian children and adolescents (Kids Count Data Center, Children in Poverty 2014).”

        To open your biased mind, I think you should read this report that explains why children in poverty do not do as well as children in more affluent homes

        Be careful when you read this report and do not cherry pick what your bias guides you to do. Although bias is mentioned in the report it does not say that bias exists. The report offers a variety of reasons why children that live in poverty do not perform equal to children that do not live in poverty.

        I do not think this is evidence of teacher bias. I see that chart as evidence that the U.S was doing better than the rest of the world to teach children living in poverty and show gains.

        A January 2013 study out of Stanford revealed:

        The report also found:

        There is an achievement gap between more and less disadvantaged students in every country; surprisingly, that gap is smaller in the United States than in similar post-industrial countries, and not much larger than in the very highest scoring countries.

        Achievement of U.S. disadvantaged students has been rising rapidly over time, while achievement of disadvantaged students in countries to which the United States is frequently unfavorably compared – Canada, Finland and Korea, for example – has been falling rapidly.

        It seems that Teacher Economist blames the test-score gap between racial groups on teacher bias when there is no valid evidence to support those false allegations.

        I repeat, the problem is not teacher bias. It is caused by living in poverty.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Lloyd,

        What you saw was that teachers in all subjects always gave African American students lower grades than Hispanic students, and always gave Hispanic students lower grades than white students. Teacher assigned grades have EXACTLY the same distribution across race as standardized test scores.

        If it is your position that African American students deserve lower grades across all the subjects, wouldn’t you also expect unbiased academic testing to result in lower test scores for African Americans as well?


      • TE, you don’t even understand your own statistics. Your data shows that students averaged such grades not that they always received them. Also, you sound just like a middle school student. We don’t give grades. Students earn them. It’s like blaming the guy at the finish line for the runner being malnourished. Lloyd is correct in his analysis.


      • No, you are wrong!
        No, you are wrong!
        No, you are wrong!
        No, you are wrong!
        No, you are wrong!
        No, you are wrong!
        No, you are wrong!

        Teachingeconomniist is wrong 24/7.

        The NAEP did not say “teachers in all subjects always GAVE African American students lower grades than Hispanic students, and always gave Hispanic students lower grades than white students”

        This is what the NAEP graph said: “Graduates in all racial/ethnic groups had higher average GPAs in 2009 than in 1990. Only White and Asian/Pacific Islander graduates had higher average GPAs in 2009 than in 2005.”

        Do you know what the word “AVERAGE” means? It does not mean what you claim. The AVERAGE was lower but I’d be willing to bet that there are Hispanic, Latino, Black and African American students that earn high grades above that average — WHEN they do not live in poverty.

        Most if not all teachers do not “GIVE” students their grades. There is a HUGE difference between the word “GIVE” vs “EARN”.

        Students EARN their grades and because African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos have higher ratios of children living in poverty, that poverty affects their ability to learn.

        Most if not all teachers do not give students their grades like we give gifts to someone on their birthday or at Christmas.

        Grades are earned.

        Poverty affects a child’s ability to do what it takes to learn what a teacher teaches.

        In 2017, 33 percent of American Indians children lived in poverty.

        11 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander children lived in poverty

        33 percent of Black or African American children lived in poverty

        26 percent of Hispanic or Latino children lived in poverty.

        11 percent of Non-Hispanic WHITE children lived in poverty.

        Poverty is the reason Black or African American Children and Hispanic or Latino children have lower GPA’s than White or Asian children.,870,573,869,36,868,867,133,38,35/10,11,9,12,1,185,13/324,323

        The reason Whites have an AVERAGE GPA of 3.26 on that chart is because of the 11 percent poverty rate for that group.

        The reason Asians have an AVERAGE GPA of 3.09 is also because of the 11-percent poverty rate in that group in addition to the fact that they are the smallest group among the four for raw numbers.

        The reason Hispanic and Latino have an AVERAGE GPA of 2.84 is because of the 26-percent poverty rate for those children in that group.

        The reason the Black or African American children have an AVERAGE GPA of 2.69 is because of the 33 percent poverty rate for the children in that group.

        The larger the ratio of children living in poverty explains why the AVERAGE GPA for each ethnic group.


        “Students living above the poverty line are entering kindergarten more prepared than those below it. High income families are able to put more money towards their children’s cognitive development than those living in poverty. Parents with low incomes, on average, have less time to read to their children, no-funds for pre-school, and less stable home environments. The difference in preparation tends to persist through elementary and high school” …

        “Another factor that restricts the school success of children in poverty is stress. Stress from housing conditions, poor nutrition, and other factors can affect a child’s physical and cognitive development. This can lead to mental conditions that impact a student’s motivation and desire to do well in school.” …

        Liked by 2 people

    • Steven,

      So your answer is that African American students on average simply earn lower grades than Hispanic, white, or Asian students?

      If so, standardized tests scores which have EXACTLY the same average distribution across race are an accurate reflection of the true academic state of those groups. Any other pattern of standardized test scores would be inconsistent with teacher assigned grades.


      • TE, you’re going to have to give up the moniker “Economist” since you seem to continually misunderstand the data. First, let’s pretend your interpretation was correct. Then you would have proven that standardized tests are unnecessary since they show the exact same results as classroom grades. Second, standardized tests do NOT show the exact same results. They pretend to assess children as more failing and inadequate than classroom grades – especially poor & minority children. Third, this is because the tests BOTH recreate the economic situation of the student AND are racially biased. Fourth, teachers cannot escape recreating to some degree the economic realities of their students in their assessments. However, we do try to be as fair as possible. Unfortunately factors outside of the classroom have a much larger impact on students than those inside the classroom. We have little control over that. All we can do is advocate for the kinds of change we need as I do here every week. Fifth, teachers as a whole are not essentially biased like standardized tests. Remember, we get to see the questions. You don’t. They are developmentally inappropriate, racially biased and just plain bad at assessing authentic learning. That’s why corporations like Princeton Review and Kaplan exist. They can teach you how to take the test and that’s what’s needed more than authentic learning of content. Sixth, please stop wasting our time here with disingenuous arguments that aren’t fooling anyone.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Steven,

    Teachers have assigned African American students lower grades for decades. There is little evidence that they are assigning grades in a fairer manner than standardized tests.

    It is, however, good to see that you now accept using biased student assessments like teacher assigned grades. How biased does the assessment have to be for you to “face palm” yourself?


    • TE, you are a clown. And worse you’re dangerously ignorant or disingenuous. Know your history. Standardized testing was created by eugenicists like Carl Brigham and Lewis Terman. When the America’s teachers collectively write a book as racist as Brigham’s “A Study of American Intelligence,” then you can equate our classroom grades with standardized test scores. These tests were written for the expressed purpose of “proving” certain races were better than others. And they still provide the same results. Yes, there are biased teachers out there. Yes, we’re not perfect. But to equate us with essentially biased assessments is not just insulting, it is grossly ignorant. When America’s minority students continually get fewer resources than white kids, of course their grades will be worse. Teachers can’t fix it all alone. We need help. That’s what this blog is all about. And some of the best ways to help are equitable funding, eliminating high stakes testing and school privatization. The fact that you continually can’t grasp this or refuse to grasp it is the source of my exasperation. Please don’t bother commenting further. Perhaps some reflection would serve you better.

      Liked by 1 person

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