From facing controversy over the scoring of the August SAT to dealing with an admissions cheating scandal, the College Board has had a busy school year. Most recently, it unveiled a new tool on May 16 with the goal of evening the standardized testing playing field by taking into account socio-economic and educational background.

Although the development has been in the works since 2015, according to The Wall Street Journal, the announcement came as a shock to many ­— including director of college counseling Jane Bauman.

“It’s unusual that the College Board didn’t send the message to (high) schools until a week later,” she said. “I heard about it when the story broke (in) the New York Times.”

The Times ran a front-page story about this “adversity score,” as the public calls it. The College Board’s website refers to it as the Environmental Context Dashboard.

According to the College Board, the score is meant to contextualize SAT scores based on factors from students’ neighborhoods and schools. On a scale of 100, the average score is 50, with a higher score meaning a student has faced more adversity.

The 31 factors that are weighed equally to generate the score can be found on College Board’s website — for example, the neighborhood percentage of adults with less than a high school diploma, percentage of adults with agriculture jobs and the unemployment and crime rates.

Senior Yanele Ledesma was surprised when she heard about the tool.

“At first I thought it was a big joke,” she said. “But I really appreciate (the score) and wish it could have come sooner.”

Ledesma said throughout high school she had noticed that people have different experiences and resources relating to standardized testing, so the adversity score is an “awesome idea.”

Sophomore Avi Krishna disagreed, saying the tool is shrouded in mystery.

“I thought, ‘This can’t be real,’” he said. “How do you know what (the College Board) values more? Crime rates or economic situations? Maybe I could judge it better if I knew.”

This lack of transparency also made Bauman skeptical.

“We don’t know exactly how the College Board comes up with the number,” she said. “Students don’t know that they’ve been given an adversity score, and there’s no choice involved for the student. We also don’t know which universities and colleges are using it.”

According to NPR, 50 colleges, including Yale University, Florida State University and Trinity University, have already tested the score, and the College Board plans to release it to 150 schools this year and more widely in 2020.

Chris Kuipers, associate director of college counseling, agreed that “we’re all trying to learn and figure it out.”

Although it is up to colleges whether to use the adversity score, Kuipers, who has worked in the Stanford University and Amherst College admission offices, said the more data, the better.

“(The College Board) has access to a lot more than any admission office would have,” he said. “The more data those offices have, the better they can understand students and create a full story for them. Trust the offices to weigh data accordingly and make wise decisions.”

Bauman said she needs more information to see how this adversity score will play out and hopes to hear from the 50 colleges and universities already using it.

“In everything I’ve read, the reaction has been mixed,” she said.

Bauman said she also thinks the adversity score is diverting attention from what’s important.

“College is unaffordable for (many) people who need to go to college,” she said. “We need to focus on how we can get more kids from more diverse backgrounds into college without accumulating devastating amounts of debt.”

“We need to focus on how we can get more kids from more diverse backgrounds into college without accumulating devastating amounts of debt.”

— Jane Bauman, director of college counseling

Krishna agreed.

“(The adversity score) is distracting,” he said. “Student loans and debt are a huge issue — they’re increasing every year.”

Krishna said he opposes the adversity score because, although it doesn’t take into account race or ethnicity, he thinks it is a “proxy for race.”

“If you look at minorities, maybe with the exception of Asians, they’re going to have lower median household incomes, higher poverty rates and crime rates,” Krishna said. “It’s effectively race-based admissions without saying it is because they’re trying to avoid that title.”

Bauman said the College Board would be foolish to include race because in California race can’t be an admissions factor in a public university.

However, Ledesma said that in a perfect world race should be a factor in the adversity score.

“Race had a lot to do with my experience,” she said. “Everyone goes through life differently because of their race.”

While race and individual information aren’t taken into consideration when generating the adversity score, Kuipers said some of that information is already stated in other parts of a college application.

“You still have the student’s race, personal information and their family background as part of their application,” he said. “There’s a desire to have this one adversity score and make it this automatic decision maker, but schools with holistic review are already looking at other factors besides test scores.”

“There’s a desire to have this one adversity score and make it this automatic decision maker, but schools with holistic review are already looking at other factors besides test scores.”

— Chris Kuipers, associate director of college counseling

Bauman said she includes school-wide demographics in the Common Application and University of California application about some of the same information the College Board is including in the adversity score.

“I answer in-depth questions about how many students are eligible for free lunch, how many English-language learners there are, how many APs we offer and more,” she said.

Furthermore, Bauman said she was “reluctant to even speculate” how the adversity score would work at Country Day.

“We’re not a public school, and we’re a small school,” Bauman said. “So do we have widely reported data?”

According to the College Board, the score is calculated from the College Board’s own data and from publicly available sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau.

Kuipers said it makes sense that the College Board is trying to create a more “systematic” way of measuring scores.

“They understand the SAT is not a perfectly objective measure,” he said. “I’m not sure you can come up with a truly objective test, but if the College Board could, they would.”

Kuipers said he hopes the adversity score will help publicize how subjective the SAT is and de-emphasize its importance.

However, he also commented on the business factor of the new tool.

“This is capitalism in the marketplace,” Kuipers said. “The College Board is a private business trying to make money.”

Bauman said that since the ACT and SAT are competitors, she believes the ACT will come up with a similar message very soon.

However, CEO of the ACT Marten Roorda said on May 17 that while believing the College Board has good intentions, he doesn’t think the adversity score is a great idea.

Kuipers said the ACT might see how the adversity score plays out before taking action of its own.

“Right now, there’s too many questions out there to really know what the consequences will be,” he said. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”

—By Sarina Rye

Originally published in the May 28 edition of the Octagon.

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