Ad­ver­sity in­dex aids kids in school of hard knocks

College Board plan boosts SAT scores

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY VALERIE RICHARD­SON

In­stead of pay­ing thou­sands of dol­lars to boost their chil­dren’s SAT scores, wealthy par­ents may in­stead con­sider mov­ing to a high-crime neigh­bor­hood and get­ting a di­vorce.

The College Board, which ad­min­is­ters the SAT, PSAT and Ad­vanced Place­ment test, is ex­pand­ing a pro­gram that gives each ap­pli­cant a score based on their so­cio-eco­nomic background, an ad­ver­sity in­dex aimed at im­prov­ing the ad­mis­sions chances of stu­dents who face hard­ship.

The 15 fac­tors in the En­vi­ron­men­tal Con­text Dashboard in­clude in­for­ma­tion about the stu­dent’s com­mu­nity, such as av­er­age fam­ily income, crime rate and hous­ing sta­bil­ity, as well as their high school, in­clud­ing av­er­age SAT scores, num­ber of AP cour­ses and per­cent­age of stu­dents el­i­gi­ble for free lunch.

What’s not in­cluded in the in­dex: race or eth­nic­ity.

“There is tal­ent and po­ten­tial wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered in ev­ery com­mu­nity

— the chil­dren of poor ru­ral fam­i­lies, kids nav­i­gat­ing the chal­lenges of life in the inner city, and mil­i­tary de­pen­dents who face the daily dif­fi­cul­ties of low income and fre­quent de­ploy­ments as part of their fam­ily’s ser­vice to our coun­try,” said College Board CEO David Cole­man. “No sin­gle test score should ever be ex­am­ined with­out pay­ing at­ten­tion to this crit­i­cal con­text.”

The dashboard, which be­gan with a 50-school pi­lot pro­gram, is sched­uled to spread to 150 col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties in the fall. The goal is to make the dashboard widely avail­able free of charge in 2020, ac­cord­ing to the College Board state­ment.

The cre­ation of the in­dex comes with the SAT strug­gling to re­main rel­e­vant as uni­ver­si­ties in­creas­ingly make stan­dard­ized tests less stan­dard. In 2018-19 alone, 40 schools an­nounced that they would adopt test-op­tional poli­cies, ac­cord­ing to New Amer­ica, bring­ing the to­tal to more than 1,000.

The College Board, which runs the Na­tional Merit Schol­ar­ship pro­gram, was also caught up in the FBI’s Op­er­a­tion Var­sity Blues sting. Last month, 36-year-old Mark Rid­dell pleaded guilty to charg­ing stu­dents $10,000 per exam to take the SAT and ACT, rais­ing ques­tions about test­ing se­cu­rity.

The SAT has long wres­tled with inequal­ity, given the racial di­vide in test scores. In 2018, white stu­dents scored 177 points higher on av­er­age than black stu­dents, and 133 points higher than His­panic stu­dents. Asian stu­dents scored 100 points higher than whites, ac­cord­ing to The Wall Street Jour­nal.

With the dashboard, how­ever, the College Board of­fers a ser­vice that can help ad­mis­sions of­fi­cers level the play­ing field and in­crease racial diversity — with­out ask­ing about race — as af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion comes un­der fire, said Richard D. Kahlen­berg, se­nior fel­low and di­rec­tor of K-12 Eq­uity at the Cen­tury Foun­da­tion.

While the En­vi­ron­men­tal Con­text Dashboard doesn’t in­cor­po­rate race or eth­nic­ity as in­di­ca­tors of ad­ver­sity, it’s also true that black and His­panic stu­dents are more likely on av­er­age to come from dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds.

“It’s pos­si­ble the Supreme Court will con­strain the abil­ity of uni­ver­si­ties to use race in ad­mis­sions in the com­ing years,” Mr. Kahlen­berg said. “And if that hap­pens, then the College Board’s tool will be an im­por­tant way to con­tinue to pro­mote racial and eth­nic diversity, as well as eco­nomic diversity.”

At least eight states have banned the use of race in ad­mis­sions de­ci­sions at pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties, and Har­vard has been ac­cused in a law­suit of dis­crim­i­nat­ing against Asian Amer­i­can stu­dents.

“It’s a smart move for the College Board to cre­ate a way which uni­ver­si­ties can con­tinue to use the SAT, which is a com­mon met­ric across high schools, and pre­serve the im­por­tant goal of en­sur­ing racial diversity on cam­pus,” said Mr. Kahlen­berg, who met with board of­fi­cials on the in­dex.

The un­palat­able al­ter­na­tive for the College Board is that more uni­ver­si­ties will make the SAT op­tional.

A 2018 study, “Defin­ing Ac­cess: How Test-Op­tional Works,” hosted by the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of College Ad­mis­sion Coun­sel­ing, found that two-thirds of the 28 col­leges sur­veyed in­creased the num­ber of mi­nor­ity stu­dents af­ter adopt­ing test-op­tional poli­cies.

In ad­di­tion, 35% of black stu­dents opted not to sub­mit stan­dard­ized test scores, ver­sus 18% of white stu­dents. Women were less likely than men to turn in scores. Ap­pli­ca­tions in­creased by 29% at pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties and 11% at pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties, ac­cord­ing to In­side HigherEd.

“We do not ar­gue that in­sti­tu­tions should en­tirely elim­i­nate con­sid­er­a­tion of the ACT and SAT for all their stu­dents, how­ever, we do con­tinue to ques­tion whether the value-add of test­ing is large enough to jus­tify the price — time spent, fi­nan­cial cost, and emo­tional drain — be­ing paid by stu­dents due to so­ci­etal pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with these tests,” said the study’s au­thors.

There may be an­other rea­son uni­ver­si­ties have moved away from re­quir­ing the SAT: the out­size in­flu­ence of the U.S. News & World Re­port “best col­leges” guide­book, which re­ports the av­er­age test scores of ap­pli­cants.

“The cyn­i­cal in­ter­pre­ta­tion is that col­leges want to im­prove their rank­ings on U.S. News & World Re­port, and if they make SATs op­tional, then only the stu­dents who did well send in their scores,” Mr. Kahlen­berg said. “And that’s what they re­port to U.S. News.”

The “ad­ver­sity in­dex” pi­lot pro­gram, which in­cluded Yale, Florida State, Michi­gan and Trin­ity uni­ver­si­ties, found that ad­mis­sions of­fices were more likely to ad­mit stu­dents from “higher lev­els of dis­ad­van­tage,” ac­cord­ing to the College Board.

The dashboard scores stu­dents on a scale of 1-100. Those reg­is­ter­ing higher than 50 are con­sid­ered dis­ad­van­taged. The ad­ver­sity scores are re­ported sep­a­rately from SAT re­sults.

While the in­dex raises ques­tions about whether rich stu­dents with bet­ter scores would lose seats to poor stu­dents, Justin Doty, dean of ad­mis­sions at Trin­ity, said his Texas school would use the ad­ver­sity in­for­ma­tion only to boost ap­pli­ca­tions, not down­grade them.

“We’re not counting any­thing against a stu­dent for not fac­ing ad­ver­sity like some­one else did. It’s more about the stu­dents who have high ad­ver­sity, fram­ing that and giv­ing more op­por­tu­ni­ties potentiall­y for those stu­dents,” Mr. Doty said in an April 15 post.

Man­hat­tan In­sti­tute fel­low Heather Mac­Don­ald, au­thor of “The Diversity Delu­sion,” blasted the College Board for “cav­ing” to “this scourge of diversity, which is sim­ply a way to dis­man­tle pre­cisely the color-blind mer­i­to­cratic stan­dards that are a key to any so­ci­ety’s suc­cess.”

“This is all about cul­ture, and for the College Board to be get­ting be­hind the idea that it’s about white priv­i­lege is com­pletely fal­la­cious and a tragic dis­ser­vice to the coun­try,” Ms. Mac­Don­ald said on Fox News Chan­nel’s “Tucker Carl­son Tonight.”

Pace Uni­ver­sity Pres­i­dent Martin Krislov said the in­dex could be “one of sev­eral help­ful data points for uni­ver­si­ties to con­sider.”

“The ‘Ad­ver­sity In­dex’ can only tell a cer­tain part of the story. It won’t let ad­mis­sions of­fi­cers know if the stu­dent has over­come a ma­jor dis­abil­ity or ill­ness,” Mr. Krislov said in a Thurs­day state­ment. “Or if the stu­dent has ex­pe­ri­enced a sig­nif­i­cant loss. But it can be a use­ful new fac­tor in a holis­tic ad­mis­sions re­view.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The SAT is strug­gling to re­main rel­e­vant in ad­mis­sions as uni­ver­si­ties in­creas­ingly make stan­dard­ized tests less stan­dard as a re­sult of an ad­ver­sity in­dex. In 2018-19 alone, 40 schools an­nounced that they would adopt test-op­tional poli­cies.

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