It wasn’t too long ago that the College Board, the company that administers the SAT, announced that it would be implementing a new change in the scores that are sent to colleges. In addition to the students’ test scores, an Environmental Context Dashboard (known as the Adversity Rating) would be included. The basic gist of the ratings is the following: On a scale of 1-100, the College Board would score students based on the adversity they have faced in their lives. Scores above 50 would indicate that a student comes from a more disadvantaged neighborhood with higher crime and poverty rates. The score would also include the relative quality of the student’s high school and the percentage of students eligible for free lunch. The adversity scores intended to, in some way, level the playing field. It is well documented that white students score an average of 177 points higher than black students on the SAT and that children of wealthy and college educated parents are better positioned for success on the test. The adversity rating would in no way change the students’ scores, instead it was meant to provide context to that score for college admission officers and attempt to create fairness across the diverse socioeconomic and educational backgrounds from where students come.
While the intentions may have been good (hard to know), there are two glaring problems with the Adversity Rating. The first, students and family were not going to have access to the score, so they would have been unable to confirm and approve the validity of the adversity scores sent to colleges. The second problem is that the score did not take into account different kinds of adversity. There are in fact many types of adversities that students face that cannot be measured by income alone. Educational leaders across the country vocally expressed their concerns, and after careful consideration the College Board announced this past Tuesday that it has replaced the Environmental Context Dashboard with a new tool called Landscape.
This new tool addresses some of the challenging issues. Landscape will give families access to the same information about high schools and neighborhoods that colleges see. The tool would also eliminate a single score and instead provide ratings based on three different categories of information: basic high school data, test score comparison, and high school and neighboring indicators such as median family income, college attendance and crime. David Coleman, the College Board’s chief executive officer, stated “Landscape provides admissions officers more consistent background information so they can fairly consider every student, no matter where they live and learn.” But there is still one major problem. Once again, this new tool does not glean any information about other impediments a student could encounter. What about a premature death of a parent, incarceration of a family member, or racism? This rating would also omit the student who faces learning differences and mental or physical illness that impact both their social and academic lives. It also does not consider the hardship of living with ASD or the disadvantages of living in a home with an atypical family structure even when living in a more affluent zip code.
Robert Schaeffer, director of Fair Test, does not give Landscape the testimonial that the College Board wants. Instead he states “By itself, Landscape will not do very much to open the doors to higher education… It’s less worse than what it replaced.” Hardly a ringing endorsement.