College Board rolling out tool that shows ‘environmental context’ for students’ SAT scores

Standardized testing has sparked debate once again with an effort by the College Board to help colleges view students’ SAT scores in context, alongside a quantitative measure of their “disadvantage level,” The Wall Street Journal reports. First released in 2017 to a pilot group of 10 colleges, the tool, formally named the Environmental Context Dashboard, is now being tested by 50 institutions. The College Board recently said it would release the dashboard to 150 institutions by fall 2019 and expects to make it broadly available at no cost by 2020.

What does the dashboard show?

The tool calculates what observers have called an “adversity score” on a scale from 1 (lowest disadvantage) to 100 (highest disadvantage). As outlined in EdWeek, the score reflects school-level and neighborhood-level data on crime rates, poverty levels, housing values, educational attainment, family structure, employment levels, and college-enrollment rates.

The dashboard also shows a student’s SAT score relative to others in their high school and displays high school-specific data such as AP courses offered and free lunch rates. Only admissions officers will see these scores; College Board has not released them to test-takers or shared its formula for calculating disadvantage scores.

Dashboard sparks vigorous debate

Without that visibility, some admissions officers have voiced concerns about the new dashboard, questioning its premise and methodology. The Atlantic echoed those concerns, writing that “adversity isn’t quantitative, it’s qualitative: the entirety of external influences in one’s life, and indeed one’s ancestors’ lives.” Others said the tool’s mere existence raises questions about institutions’ reliance on the SAT if the scores require that level of interpretation.

Amid the frenzy surrounding its dashboard, the College Board recently released a fact sheet that addresses common misconceptions, emphasizing that the tool “enables colleges to witness the strength of students in a huge swath of America who would otherwise be overlooked.” Other advocates chimed in, noting the dashboard’s potential as a race-neutral tool and saying that the disadvantage score would be just one of many factors considered in reviewing an applicant.

Joy St. John, director of admissions at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, says the tool helps shed light on lesser-known regions of the country, adding that “sometimes students don’t know what’s most unique about them.”

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