I’m Not Down With Adversity Scores Because All Kids Can Excel

Many moons ago, the late rap genius Tupac spoke about “the rose that grew from concrete.”

It’s a metaphor of course, and as a teacher, I’ve seen lots of roses (students) that must blossom in spite of harsh environments. Difficult family and home situations make it tough for kids to persevere, and in some areas, incessant crime and drug abuse create stumbling blocks for even the brightest of young minds.

However, when it comes to helping more roses grow from the concrete, I’m not sure that “adversity scores” are the right ingredient.

Earlier this month, the College Board announced that they will begin implementing an “adversity score” for all students taking the SAT, designed to contextualize students’ life experiences that don’t usually appear on test scores or resumes. These scores are supposed to be a race-blind measure of information about students’ neighborhoods and schooling environments, which the College Board says will provide universities with important context information about potential students that they can’t normally see.

With this new data on students’ “adversity levels,” supporters say that adversity scores may help colleges avoid “overlooking” students that may not have normally been considered for acceptance.

“There is talent and potential waiting to be discovered in every community — the children of poor rural families, kids navigating the challenges of life in the inner city, and military dependents who face the daily difficulties of low income and frequent deployments as part of their family’s service to our country,” College Board CEO David Coleman said in one statement. “No single test score should ever be examined without paying attention to this critical context.”

But of course, the “adversity score” proposal has also been quickly hailed as…. problematic.

Earlier this week, an op-ed in The Hill called adversity scores a “hurdle for deserving students.” As contributor Ava Woychuk-Mlinac argues, “Success is when all students have equal access to a good K-12 education, despite their environmental circumstances. The College Board’s creation of an adversity standard demonstrates misaligned priorities; its resources would be better served providing greater access to student preparation.”

That “preparation” begins in public schools that offer effective instruction and set high expectations for students. While it is encouraging that universities have begun to realize that test scores can’t provide complete insight into a student’s potential, I’m concerned that this “adversity score” initiative may have an adverse effect on the expectations we should be setting in our schools. (See what I did there?)

By judging students on their “adversity levels,” the College Board is implying that they don’t believe students from tough neighborhoods can meet the same standard as middle-class, suburban kids. Perhaps their intentions are good, but I fear that this initiative will only further widen the Belief Gap.

A student’s neighborhood is not their destiny; their zip code is not their future. No young person should feel bound to an educational death sentence because of their circumstances.

I believe that with high expectations and the right amount of support, any kid can excel, regardless of the adversity they have dealt with in their lives. If “adversity scores” end up lowering the bar for our students, then count me out.

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