The nonprofit that administers the SAT test to 2 million students each year has axed its nascent “adversity score,” a clumsy attempt to distill the possible socioeconomic hardships and challenges of a student’s background into a single neat and tidy number. Good call.

The College Board adversity score, which would have been presented alongside a student’s test results in reports to prospective colleges, drew resistance since it made news in May. We were among the critics, noting the factors considered were too general to be attached to a student whose own specific circumstances were not taken directly into account. Demographic data including poverty and crime rates and other factors relating to a student’s environment would have been brewed, too simply, into an “overall disadvantage level” between 1 and 100.

The system lacked transparency. Not every metric that would be used was explained. Students and parents would not be made aware of the ultimate score that was applied to the child behind the scenes.

As we wrote previously, the whole exercise smacked of false precision, suggesting that each student’s nonacademic background, measured by no personal data whatsoever, could be number-crunched into trustworthy insight.

David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, acknowledges that the approach was an overreach and says some people wrongly worried the tool would alter the student’s SAT results. “The idea of a single score was wrong,” he says, according to The Associated Press. “It was confusing and created the misperception that the indicators are specific to an individual student.”

The board hasn’t given up on helping schools assess applicants’ fortitude, a worthy goal as part of the bundle of information colleges consider about prospective students. It says something about a kid if she or he had to hustle up the stairs while others took the elevator.

A dashboard called Landscape will be supplied with test scores and will present much of the same context about where a student lived and went to school, without attempting to wrench those data points into a single figure in a way that implies an unwarranted stamp of definitiveness. Admissions officers still will have tools to gauge how much students have overcome in the years before they sat down to take the widely used test.

With well-off parents finding all kinds of ways to give their kids an edge in the admissions process — from nurturing and academic preparation to scandalous schemes and illegal bribes — universities need ways to identify those smart, persistent teens who did more with less. Ask anyone in education: A single score won’t tell the full story.

Editorial by the Chicago Tribune

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