The SAT Adversity Score Should Be Subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act Protections

by Jeff Sovern

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the College Board, providers of the SAT tests, will give colleges an adversity score for each applicant who takes the SAT to aid college in admissions decisions. As the Journal explains:

This new number, called an adversity score by college admissions officers, is calculated using 15 factors including the crime rate and poverty levels from the student’s high school and neighborhood. Students won’t be told the scores, but colleges will see the numbers when reviewing their applications.

In light of reports that SAT scores tend to correlate with the income and education of the parents, this score could be useful to colleges. But it is troublesome that the College Board won't tell students their score. As Bob Sullivan has asked, what if the College Board gets the score wrong? That isn't a fanciful notion. The FTC's years-long study of credit report accuracy found that one in five credit reports contain an error even though credit bureaus have decades of experience obtaining and compiling credit records. It is easy to imagine that some student adversity scores would also be based on erroneous information, especially as the score itself is a new creation and so may still have some bugs, despite the College Board's testing. Consumers have a right to examine their credit reports, and that provides some--albeit weak--measure of accountability. They also have rights to seek the correction of erroneous information. Why should the College Board adversity score be any different? Given the importance of college admissions to many applicants, the adversity score should be subject to the same disclosure and correction mechanisms that credit reports are. The College Board's decision not to disclose the scores reduces the likelihood that any errors it makes will be caught. It also make me wonder why it fears having students know their adversity score. If the FCRA doesn't already apply to the adversity score (something I hope to explore in a later post if my schedule permits), I hope Congress will amend the FCRA to extend its protections the the adversity score. [Disclosure: I have a child who expects to apply to colleges in the fall.]