The College Board, which oversees the SAT college entrance exam, is introducing a new tool to help admissions officers measure applicants' level of privilege.
The organization will begin using the Environmental Context Dashboard to score students’ disadvantages alongside their SAT test score, in an effort to take students’ merit and resourcefulness into account. Starting this fall, 150 colleges are set to use the tool, the College Board announced Thursday, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The Environmental Context Dashboard is meant to, “[shine] a light on students who have demonstrated remarkable resourcefulness to overcome challenges and achieve more with less,” Davie Coleman, CEO of the College Board, said in a statement released to Global Citizen.
“It enables colleges to witness the strength of students in a huge swath of America who would otherwise be overlooked.”
A student’s dashboard score is calculated by college admissions officers using 15 categories including the crime rate, poverty levels, education rates of the student’s high school and neighborhood. The score does not factor in the student’s race.
Dashboard scores will not be shown to students, but colleges will see the scores when reviewing applications and will be able to take more into consideration than just students’ SAT scores and grades.
The College Board developed the new admissions tool in response to colleges’ concerns that they were missing talented students because their weak transcripts did not reflect the disadvantages they’d faced, Coleman told the Atlantic. The dashboard scores students on the level of adversity they faced using a scale of one through 100, with a score of 50 being average, according to the Wall Street Journal.
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There are many factors that might put students at a disadvantage, from attending low-performing schools and not having the opportunity to engage in extracurricular activities, to coming from a low-income family or being the first in their family to attend college.
Higher college admission test scores often correlate with higher family income and education levels, and white and Asian students generally tend to score higher than their Latino or black peers, according to the Atlantic. Wealthy students also enroll in college at the highest rate.
Among recent high school graduates from families earning below $30,000 per year, just 39% enroll in a four-year college, compared to 61% of students from families with an annual income of more than$100,000.
The College Board has already tested out the scoring system that captures students’ social and economic background in 50 schools, including Yale University and Florida State University in 2018, according to the Wall Street Journal.
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Admissions staff at schools that used the dashboard tool reported that applicants from higher levels of disadvantage were more likely to be admitted, which suggests that the additional context influenced admissions outcomes, according to the College Board. The tool was especially helpful for staff who were less familiar with applicants’ high schools and for students who excelled far more than their peers.
“The dashboard helped us recognize hardworking students who really care about their academics but maybe the school or environment disabled them from being able to fully thrive as a student,” one admissions official who tested the dashboard told the College Board.
Since 2018, the number of low-income and first-generation freshman admitted to Yale has doubled to almost 20% of its incoming class, according to NPR.
Critics of the College Board’s new dashboard, however, argue that the tool is an attempt to protect the SAT test, which is currently under scrutiny for widening the higher education gap between privileged and disadvantaged students. Others believe it does not capture individual students' situations.
https://t.co/exGXMqd34C I think this is poorly implemented. I went to a high school and lived in a census tract that probably would have given me a adversity score that was too high. But I grew up upper middle class with two college educated parents.— Brittany Alexander (@balexanderstats) May 20, 2019
how about we just take the SAT, ACT, and all those other “big exams” away as a whole. those things are meant to keep certain students out. a lot of people that 100% deserve to go to college don’t get to because of one bad score.. https://t.co/OP3dH7OFe3— Aj ひ (@_AjRivers) May 16, 2019
Despite the controversy, the College Board intends to make the dashboard broadly available to colleges for free.
“There is talent and potential waiting to be discovered in every community — the children of poor rural families, kids navigating the challenges of life in the inner city, and military dependents who face the daily difficulties of low income and frequent deployments as part of their family’s service to our country,” Coleman said.