Scoring the adversity score

You may have heard that the College Board has announced the implementation of a proprietary secret sauce affecting college applicants who take the board’s SAT tests. The secret sauce will supply the colleges with an “adversity score” of each applicant for use by the schools in addition to the SAT scores themselves. Is this because the colleges are incapable of figuring it out for themselves, or because the board is tired of defending itself?

Where I can only groan, Heather Mac Donald assesses the “adversity score” to render an adverse judgment:

For decades, the College Board defended the SAT, which it writes and administers, against charges that the test gives an unfair advantage to middle-class white students. No longer. Under relentless pressure from the racial-preferences lobby, the Board has now caved to the anti-meritocratic ideology of ‘diversity.’ The Board will calculate for each SAT-taker an ‘adversity score’ that purports to measure a student’s socioeconomic position, according to the Wall Street Journal. Colleges can use this adversity index to boost the admissions ranking of allegedly disadvantaged students who otherwise would score too poorly to be considered for admission.

Advocates of this change claim that it is not about race. That is a fiction. In fact, the SAT adversity score is simply the latest response on the part of mainstream institutions to the seeming intractability of the racial academic-achievement gap. If that gap did not exist, the entire discourse about “diversity” would evaporate overnight. The average white score on the SAT (1,123 out of a possible 1,600) is 177 points higher than the average black score (946), approximately a standard deviation of difference. This gap has persisted for decades. It is not explained by socioeconomic disparities….

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Those who rail against “white privilege” as a determinant of academic achievement have a nagging problem: Asians. Asian students outscore white students on the SAT by 100 points; they outscore blacks by 277 points. It is not Asian families’ economic capital that vaults them to the top of the academic totem pole; it is their emphasis on scholarly effort and self-discipline. Every year in New York City, Asian elementary school students vastly outperform every other racial and ethnic group on the admissions test for the city’s competitive public high schools, even though a disproportionate number of them come from poor immigrant families.

Colleges pay lip service to socioeconomic diversity, but that concept is inevitably a surrogate for race. Colleges have repeatedly rejected admissions schemes that purport to substitute socioeconomic preferences for racial preferences, on the ground that those socioeconomic schemes do not yield enough “underrepresented minorities.”

Heather’s column — “Grievance proxies” — is must reading in its entirety.

I don’t think it expressly addresses one question. Will the “adversity score” amplify the already powerful effect of racial preferences in the admissions process or is it designed to spare colleges the embarrassment of administering them? The Wall Street Journal speculates that the latter is the case in its editorial “The new and unimproved SAT.”

How is it supposed to work? You can be sure that this is one question to which we will never be afforded a straight answer from the anticipated consumers of the “adversity score.” Short of intervention by the Supreme Court, however, we can be sure that the regime of racial preferences in higher education must be added to the list of life’s eternal verities along with death and taxes.

Tom Lifson adds a third possibility to the question as I frame it above: “By adding the adversity score and therefore a veneer of pseudo-science to the racial engineering of outcomes, the College Board is feathering its own financial nest. So it’s not only about hypocrisy, racial engineering, and achievement gaps, it’s also about the money.” The Journal editorial concurs: “The College Board may also be trying to maintain its college market share.”

If we were posing this as an exam question, SAT style, the correct answer would probably have to be “all of the above.”

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