SAT to include student adversity score for college admission decisions

Every college hopeful who takes the SAT eventually will have an adversity score assigned to them to reflect their social and economic background, which college admissions officials can consider.

The score is based on 15 factors such as crime rates, home values in a student’s community, the average number of advanced placement exams taken at their high schools and the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

The College Board’s Environmental Context Dashboard metric has been part of a pilot program for three years, most recently in more than 50 colleges. There are plans to expand the program in 2019.

“All of the admissions officers, at all of the schools — they are trying to attract a diverse group of students,” said Colleen Ganjian, a college admissions expert from D.C. College Counseling.

Officials at Yale University and Florida State, which have been part of the pilot program, have said the score has helped them attract diverse sets of students, Ganjian said.

“But then on the other side, you have people at Georgetown and [the University of Virginia] saying, ‘Is this really measuring what we think it’s measuring, and is this needed?’ And basically just asking more questions,” Ganjian said.

Students won’t know what their environmental score is. It will only be available to college admissions officials.

“I think that before parents start becoming concerned or excited about this, no matter which side you’re on … I personally don’t think, at least for students in the D.C. area, I don’t think that this score is going to mean much,” she said.

Explaining why, Ganjian said that the typical admissions process is holistic and involves a committee that reads students’ applications, reviews their essays, learns about the high schools they attend, the courses they’ve taken and their test scores and grades.

The process is so comprehensive, Ganjian said, that if a student comes from a high school in an area such as McLean, Virginia, which has a low adversity score, admissions officers have probably already made assumptions about the student’s socio-economic status.

Ganjian also is skeptical that the new score is capable of assessing whether students have faced adversity in their lives. “There are so many aspects of adversity that can’t be measured by general data,” Ganjian said.

Some parents who are concerned that the adversity score might hurt their children’s chances have contacted Ganjian’s organization asking whether they should have their children sign up for the ACT instead.

“One thing that I think most families don’t know is that the ACT is actually coming out with a similar metric,” Ganjian said.

Most but not all colleges require SAT or ACT scores as part of the application process.

After news of the new score broke this week, one area university said that it “strives to recruit a diverse student body each year.”

“We look forward to learning more about the potential use within the college admissions process,” American University spokeswoman Teresa Flannery said Friday.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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