Last month, the College Board announced the introduction of a new “adversity score” on the SAT score report that will be officially launched this year, starting with 150 colleges who will use it as part of their admissions review processes. A pilot program for the new adversity index began in 2017 with 10 colleges and later expanded to 50 colleges.
The adversity score ranges from 1 to 100 (100 being the highest disadvantage) and is based on a compilation of data about the student's SAT score, high school and neighborhood, which the College Board is calling the Environmental Context Dashboard (ECD). The ECD aims to give universities an idea of the “overall disadvantage level” that students have faced based on their social, economic and family backgrounds. According to the College Board, “The robust data included in the Dashboard shines a light on students who have demonstrated resourcefulness to overcome challenges and achieve more with less."
Colleges can decide whether or not to use this information (in whatever way they choose) during the applicant review process, but the intention is that those who do can diversify their student body without looking at race, which is illegal in certain states. However, students will not be able to see their own adversity scores on their SAT score reports and also have no way of blocking a college from seeing their ECDs.
Because of the concordance tables created to convert an ACT score into its SAT equivalent, admissions officers can also potentially use the ECD to evaluate students who took the ACT instead of the SAT.
A Closer Look at the ECD Data
The Dashboard is divided into three categories of information:
1) SAT scores in context: Students' SAT scores can be seen within the context of the 25th, 50th and 75th percentile of SAT scores from the student’s high school (three-year average).
2) Information on the high school: Including senior class size, percentage of students who meet federal eligibility criteria for free and reduced-price lunch, rurality/urbanicity, average first-year SAT score of colleges students from that high school attend, percentage of seniors taking an AP Exam, average number of AP Exams taken, average AP score from that high school, number of unique AP Exams administered at that high school (three-year average).
3) Contextual data on the neighborhood and high school environment: The context data includes two measures — neighborhood and high school environment — calculated using data drawn from a combination of publicly available sources (e.g., NCES and U.S. Census Bureau), and aggregated College Board data.
It is this third category that is stirring up the most controversy. The “Neighborhood Measure” is based on data about the neighborhood where the student lives: household income, family structure, housing, educational attainment and likelihood of being a victim of a crime. The “High School Measure” is based on the data about the neighborhood where the student's high school is located: household income, family structure, housing and educational attainment.
Here are the factors that the College Board uses to calculate the both of these measures:
- Median family income
- Percentage of all households in poverty (poverty rate)
- Percentage of families with children in poverty
- Percentage of households with food stamps
- Percentage of families that are single-parent families with children and in poverty
- Percentage of families that are single-parent families with children
- Percentage of housing units that are rental
- Percentage of housing units that are vacant
- Rent as a percentage of income
- Percentage of adults with less than a four-year college degree
- Percentage of adults with less than a high school diploma
- Percentage of adults with agriculture jobs
- Percentage of adults with nonprofessional jobs
- Percentage unemployed
- College-going behavior
- Probability of being a victim of a crime
To gather all of this data, the College Board asks students only for their home address and the address of their high school. However, ACT's CEO Marten Roorda pointed out that it would be easy to “game the system” by using an address from a poorer neighborhood, for example, if a parent or student wanted to increase their disadvantage level. One of many critics of the ECD, Roorda voiced his concerns and disagreement with the College Board's new tool, essentially saying that while the intention may have been good, the solution was not.
How Colleges Are Using the ECD
Although colleges are now beginning to use the adversity index, they are still evaluating the data in different ways.
While the University of Connecticut has decided not to sign on to use the ECD in the review process at this time, spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said that instead the school will be “exploring its use from a data-collecting standpoint.”
San Antonio's Trinity University was one of the first 15 schools to incorporate the ECD in the initial phase of the pilot program and has now used it for two full admissions cycles. Eric Maloof, Trinity's vice president for enrollment management, explained that the school wanted to use the ECD to maintain and increase diversity in the student body. Over the last five years, the school experienced a large jump in its applicant pool and a drop in its admit rate, as well as an increase in the academic quality of the student body.
“But something that is extraordinarily important to me is that we maintained or increased our diversity during that rise," he told College Confidential. "Oftentimes, increased selectivity works against diversity. And we did not want that to happen. We wanted to be more selective but did not want it to be at the expense of diversity, broadly defined. And we just thought that this tool would help us in the admissions committee make more informed decisions on students who deserved a second look, who otherwise may get lost in the shuffle,” Maloof said.
However, Maloof emphasized how important it was to understand that the data in the dashboard does not necessarily represent the student's experience. “Rather, it suggests the environment to which they were likely exposed. We are looking to see if that supports what is otherwise in the application. So nothing here will replace something personal in the application.”