After unveiling a tool to contextualize SAT scores based on students’ socio-economic backgrounds in May, the College Board announced on Aug. 27 that this plan would be abandoned. 

The College Board will now report a broad array of data points based on factors from students’ neighborhoods and schools as part of a tool called Landscape.

This feature will use much of the same information as the previous tool did — for example, the neighborhood percentage of adults with less than a high school diploma, the percentage of adults with agriculture jobs and the unemployment and crime rates — but will not calculate a single number, the former “adversity score.”

The original tool, called the Environmental Context Dashboard by the College Board, was dropped in response to criticism from students, parents and educators.

Chris Kuipers, associate director of college counseling, said he wasn’t surprised the College Board changed its original plan.

“It is valid to say there’s far too much nuance in order to be able to take all of these different factors and zero it in into this one score,” he said. “They kind of listened to that and stepped back, but at the same time, a lot of it is just rebranding and waiting for the uproar to die down.”

Director of college counseling Jane Bauman commented on some similarities between the old and updated tool, starting with how she discovered the change.

“I found out, believe it or not, from a science teacher,” she said. “(Just) like when it was first announced, the College Board never sent out a notification directly to college counselors at the high school level. After reading the New York Times article about it, I think the College Board has simply renamed the score and is making an attempt to make it slightly more transparent.”

When the adversity score was unveiled, the College Board planned to show it only to admissions officers, which junior Avinash Krishna said concerned him.

“It’s good that they’re showing (the data) to students and parents now, but it brings up another issue,” he said. “This will encourage (students) to play into these stereotypes — that they’re victims of society and the government.”

However, senior Jewel Turner said it is necessary to contextualize the SAT.

“It is good to acknowledge that people have different access to opportunities and resources,” she said. “But it still shouldn’t directly play into or determine admissions.”

Kuipers agreed, saying “it’s a good step to at least present the information.”

However, Krishna questioned the intent of the College Board in creating the adversity score and now Landscape.

“The SAT is a product of the College Board,” he said. “People question its nonprofit status. It struggles to stay relevant in this modern society after being challenged by big universities like the University of Chicago where you can opt out of reporting your scores.”

Bauman said the College Board is looking for market share in the standardized testing area. Currently, the ACT does not use a similar tool.

“What’s the ACT doing?” she questioned. “It’s like McDonald’s and Burger King or Coke and Pepsi. They’re in competition with each other.”

Krishna said Landscape is a promotion, and that the data will only muddy the waters of college admissions.

“Some data is really noisy, and you don’t really know what it’s saying,” he said. “But signals, like individual hobbies, are what are actually important. (Landscape is emphasizing) the wrong data.”

Kuipers said admissions are already muddy.

“At the heart of the holistic process is weighing all these different factors,” he said. “Life and kids are multifaceted. So I’m not worried about too much data. It’s already pretty complicated, and schools are still going to make their own decisions.”

Bauman said Landscape does not reveal everything.

“It’s just a tool, and wise people will use it only as such,” she said.

—By Sarina Rye

Originally published in the Sept. 17 edition of the Octagon.

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