Telling the awful truth about the new SAT ‘adversity’ score

Few people have the audacity to speak the truth about the underlying problem with the efforts to engineer “diversity” – which in practice means that blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans receive a share of jobs, college admissions, income, and other products of achievement at least proportional to their share of the population. Fortunately, Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute has a lot of guts.

Last night, Ms. Mac Donald appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight and discussed the newly-announced “adversity score” adopted by the College Board publishers of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).  As explained by the New York Times:

The company announced on Thursday that it will include a new rating, which is widely being referred to as an “adversity score,” of between 1 and 100 on students’ test results. An average score is 50, and higher numbers mean more disadvantage. The score will be calculated using 15 factors, including the relative quality of the student’s high school and the crime rate and poverty level of the student’s neighborhood.

The rating will not affect students’ test scores, and will be reported only to college dmissions officials as part of a larger package of data on each test taker.

The Wall Street Journal expresses the decision factors in this graphic:

Source: Wall Street Journal

In his introduction Carlson outlined many problems with the whole idea:

It’s kept a secret. “Trust us,” in effect, they say. There is no appeal possible. And as a black box whose inner workings are secret, it becomes an ideal vehicle for engineering the racial results admissions offices desire.

It is easily gamed – fake addresses, even possible income manipulation (by claiming a lot of depreciation, for instance, the way that Donald Trump reported negative income in the 1980s)

And it provides perverse incentives, rewarding victim status, not achievement. Parents who start out with no advantages and work hard to provide a better life for their kids will now be handicapping them if they have high incomes and live in nice neighborhoods with good schools.

But leave it to Heather Mac Donald to cut to the chase:  all of this diversity engineering is driven by the seemingly intractable racial achievement gap. If we could close the gap by changing culture, the whole diversity discussion would go away.

She explains that the gap is driven by culture. The “acting white syndrome” common in contemporary black culture stigmatizes effort. The high scores achieved by children of poor Asian immigrant families prove the point. Their parents’ culture emphasizes effort, persistence, and deferred gratification.  Those cultural values are not inherent in any race, but are embraced by members of different cultures to different degrees.

The Wall Street Journal provides excellent evidence of the SAT score distribution reported by race and by household income and parents’ educational level, which can serve as proxies:

Source: Wall Street Journal

She says that the idea that privilege, not hard work, persistence and discipline drive better scores is ridiculous. She adds that blacks kids know that they are not held to the same standard, have less incentive to push themselves, making the problem worse.


Some further thoughts from me:

Since college admissions are a zero-sum issue (for every person who gets in, another person is denied submission), what is called an “adversity” score used to grant an advantage becomes a “privilege” penalty for those who do not have an adversity plus added to their admissions file.  This is precisely why the federal prosecutions of families that paid bribes to gain advantages for their children in elite college admissions are harming the public. Their crimes have victims. So does the SAT’s scheme.

Heather Mac Donald states that David Coleman, the head of the College Board (and also called “the architect of the common core curriculum in the media) has “thrown the College Board into the excuse-making grievance industry,” which is true. But it is important to add that the financial self-interest of his organization is at stake. The College Board is reacting to demand from colleges, many of which are making use if the SATs optional, or even dropping the requirement entirely, precisely because it does not yield the desired racial distribution of scores. Fewer students taking the test, because colleges don’t require it, means less money for the College Board.

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.

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