Correction: A previous version of this article suggested the Environmental Context Dashboard would be used to adjust students' SAT scores rather than providing additional contextual information alongside them.
School counselors recently blasted the College Board’s plan to weigh SAT scores by neighborhoods and high schools. Last week, 150 colleges announced they would be using the pilot “Environmental Context Dashboard,” Education Week reports.
Though some school counselors support the College Board’s decision, most were critical of the plan to scale schools and neighborhoods from 1-100 on a type of “disadvantage score.”
Most counselors acknowledge that students of color and those of low-income are underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges, but believe this will just become another hurdle for the richest parents to overcome. The announcement was especially jarring for parents who already feel like college admission systems are unfair, as details of the Varsity Blues scandal continue to unfold.
While providing information about a student's school or neighborhood alongside an SAT score provides additional context, a student’s success is based on many intangibles that are not taken into account when weighing scores based on ZIP codes. While students in poverty, those experiencing food insecurity and students of color are underrepresented at colleges, students with adverse childhood experiences struggle as well.
Counselors say that assessing a student’s grit based on the address of their high school does not tell the whole story. Students whose schools sit in higher income neighborhoods may still face a variety of challenges, including learning disabilities or being in foster care.
While students from middle- and high-income areas can often participate in more extracurricular activities, because they tend to have the time and more financial resources, those in lower-income households may not have the same opportunities, or may need to work or care for a sibling after school — which might not help on a college application. One idea is to give applicants who worked eight or more hours a week in high school a "bump" that equals the extracurricular activity credit.
Some colleges are also putting less emphasis on admission tests and considering other factors, such as a student's GPA and leadership skills. A college that wants to attract community-building student leaders, for example, could ask applicants to answer thought-provoking essay questions about the meaning of community. According to FairTest, over 1,000 colleges and universities are now "test optional," meaning they don't require students to submit ACT or SAT scores.