Is the Adversity Score a Tool for Acknowledging Poverty (as a surrogate for race) in College Admissions or a Tool to Enrich the SAT?

About ten years ago I sat in a room with a group of principals and watched/listened to David Coleman’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” kickoff of the Common Core.

At the end of the presentation a teacher in the audience commented, “We’re already using these strategies: what’s new?” Coleman snapped back, “If that’s the case why are our kids doing so poorly?”

I knew we were in trouble.

States adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), tests were aligned with the CCSS, instruction was measured by CCSS and we all anticipated achievement to begin to move up the ladder – we’re still waiting:  NAEP scores remain flat and in New York State test scores are still mired in the lower half of states

The Organization for Education, Co-Operation and Development (OECD) takes a deep dive into reading instruction across the OECD nations, “Measuring Innovation in Education: 2019,” and reports,

It turns out that over 90 percent of U.S. teachers were already regularly doing these Common Core-endorsed practices back in 2006 … for all the Common Core-induced hoopla—there was little obvious change in U.S. practice, while other nations actually spent 2006-2016 doing more of what the U.S. was already doing back in the Bush years.

 Turns out that teacher in the audience was correct.

 I’ve always wondered why ED Hirsch’s Core Knowledge has never caught on, a rich curriculum and high level of instruction in a collaborative environment is the path to student growth. The CCSS and the top down rigid implementation, in my view were doomed to failure.

A decade later another David Coleman “innovation,” the Adversity Index,

The adversity score will be a number ranging from 1 to 100, calculated from 15 factors such as neighborhood crime rates and poverty levels. A score of 50 will be the average; scores above 50 reflect increasing levels of hardship, and scores below indicate higher degrees of privilege. SAT officials indicated that students would not be informed of their adversity scores, but colleges will have access to them as they make admission decisions.

We know that the college admissions process is subject to abuse, the recent scandal: payoffs to get kids into desirable colleges extends far beyond the fifty families cited by the authorities; I believe an example of the “iceberg effect

Colleges are increasingly abandoning the SAT or making SAT scores optional, and the SAT is seeking other sources of revenue.

The adversity score might be attractive to colleges who want to increase student diversity without risking law suits over racially-based admissions policy, and, for the College Board, make up for the income lost due to fewer and fewer schools using the SAT.

Am I cynical? Yes, and, the criticism of the new adversity score tool is widespread,

This “overall disadvantage level” will appear on something the College Board (parent company of the SAT) is calling an “environmental context dashboard.” It incorporates demographic and census data to profile high school students …

Though there are a near infinitude of ways both explicit and subtle to experience challenges in life, the adversity index will restrict itself to just three categories: neighborhood environment (including factors like crime and poverty rates and housing values); family environment (the income, education and marriage status of parents and whether they speak English); and high school environment (aspects like the free lunch rate and rigor of the curriculum).

 The Daily Beast is not only suspicious of Coleman; they criticize the tool as a “retrograde notion that institutionalizes anti-affirmative action views,”

 … like the test-based accountability movement in which David Coleman also played a key role as the moving force behind the Common Core standards, the Index’s single quantitative score is likely to crowd out other important information from admissions assessments. The absence of race and ethnicity has already been widely noted. This decision not only ignores a highly consequential characteristic recognized even by the Supreme Court as a valid diversity factor but also signifies the College Board’s acquiescence to color-blind public policies, a particularly retrograde notion that institutionalizes anti-affirmative action views

 If you want to take a deeper dive into how the adversity score works read Dana Goldstein in the NY Times here.

 I view the adversity score as a way of side-stepping the sensitive question of race and at the same time increasing revenue for the College Board.

I know an Afro-American male, an athlete, who attended a prestigious Division 3 school (no athletic scholarships). He was one of only a handful of black, male students at the college. Other students constantly referred to him “he’s only here because he’s an athlete, and with a scholarship,” both black and an athlete. He wasn’t shy, he responded, “Yes, I’m on a scholarship, provided by my parents, there’s only one of them.”

The adversity score may only succeed in stigmatizing students by race.

The question we should be asking is why some poor students succeed in college and afterwards and why others stumble?  Is it the inadequacy of the school systems that failed to prepare the students, or successfully prepared students? Is the quality of the education at the colleges?

Raj Chetty and his team at Harvard explored the question of economic income mobility, economic diversity and student outcomes. The study used millions of anonymous tax records from college graduates.

Of the 369 “selective public colleges” The City College of New York (CCNY) had the highest economic mobility (Baruch College was # 2)

Overall mobility index

This measure reflects both access and outcomes, representing the likelihood that a student at City College of New York moved up two or more income quintiles.

1st out of 369 Selective public colleges

Why are students from City College so successful? Are our public schools far better than we think? Is the college itself providing the instruction and supports?

Students enter the college with poverty level family incomes and a decade after graduation half the students had entered the middle class.

 The adversity score may identify students of color, or, give an advantage to gentrifiers living in changing neighborhoods, or, provide a tool for establishing a quota without mentioning race.

Using “big data” to create an adversity score is a waste of effort, the Chetty use of “big data” is far more meaningful. We have a pretty good idea of why children of color struggle in under resourced schools: a core question: why do some succeed?

Some would argue grit and perseverance: are these “teachable” qualities? Others would argue a rich curriculum, or, a culturally relevant pedagogy, or teachers of color.

Let’s keep investigating.

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