Will “adversity scores” really help disadvantaged kids who aspire to get into good colleges?

Novelist and Spectator columnist Lionel Shriver argues that the College Board’s recently announced plan award secret “adversity points” to test takers from poor families will backfire, harming kids from disadvantaged backgrounds who have struggled to succeed.

The We Need to Talk about Kevin author makes some excellent points:

Uncomfortable with those racial disparities — and especially exasperated that Asians have been acing the test, sometimes with the perfect scores unheard of when I took it — for years American colleges have been steadily reducing the weight they give SAT results in admissions decisions. Eager to remain germane, the College Board has now designed an ‘adversity index’ to accompany the test scores, intended to measure a student’s experience of hardship.

Like all the other attempts to take a shortcut to social justice by putting a thumb on the scales — to solve unfairness with more unfairness — this advantaging of one group will disadvantage others. As the measurement is intended to do, preference for college applicants with a high adversity index will obviously punish prosperous, high-achieving white students, who might still have worked very hard and might actually have problems, too. But the index could also handicap kids with poor and/or immigrant parents who’ve displayed the very ‘resourcefulness’ it’s meant to reward — who’ve scrimped to finally buy a house or move into a better area, or who have themselves, against the odds, earned degrees.

Successfully overcoming adversity is therefore penalized. I shouldn’t be surprised if a high proportion of immigrant parents who’ve bootstrapped themselves into improved circumstances are East Asian. Keeping infuriatingly diligent Asians from veritably taking over America’s best universities has become a prime directive of their admissions departments — all in the interest of fighting racism. (Hence a lawsuit against Harvard by a group called Students for Fair Admissions, accusing the school of discriminating against Asians. The verdict is announced this summer. Watch this space.)

Shriver also comes up with an amusing (and I must say far-fetched—but you never know) scenario whereby rich parents such as Felicity Huffman and the other college admissions scandal parents learn to game the system by renting houses in poor neighborhoods and putting their darlings in underperforming schools.

“Adversity scores” are presented by the College Board as a way to level the playing field and overcome privilege.

A more gimlet-eyed view, however, as outlined by Forbes magazine: it’s a gimmicky attempt to preserve the SAT’s market share. Fascinating article.

Meanwhile, I can’t help but wondering if, in the past, a college admissions officer might have looked at applications and said something like, “This kid has done remarkably well, despite her disadvantages. Her scores aren’t as high as some, but let’s take a chance on her character.” No trendy "adversity points" needed.

But that would be so old-fashioned.