standardized testing

Perhaps you’ve heard the news that the SAT will give students a new “adversity score” that will share more about their social and economic background with colleges? If not, you must not work in college admissions, college counseling, or a high school setting, be a teenager, have a teenager, know a teenager, or know someone with a teenager. The news exploded with so much force on Thursday as to almost—almost—eclipse the big bang of #OperationVarsityBlues.

If you’re curious about what’s behind the Environmental Context Dashboard (ECD), you can click here to learn more about it and its impact thus far from Michael Bastedo, on whose research the system is based. One especially notable aspect of the ECD is that it’s offered as its own dashboard, and it is entirely separate from test scores. That means colleges who access the ECD can consider it for any student—those who took the ACT, those who opted to apply test optional, and, of course, those who took the SAT.

The ECD’s aims are admirable, and I want to like it. So, why don’t I?

I think I can crystalize my thoughts in three words: the College Board.

This private, ostensibly non-profit company has had a headlock on the standardized testing industry for decades. The College Board is synonymous with its most famous product, the SAT, but you may or may not be aware that they are behind many more tests, including AP exams, the PSAT, and the SAT Subject Tests, to name a few.

Given all of that, you’d think they’d be better at this testing thing by now. But in recent years, they’ve been plagued by massive cheating scandals involving recycled test questions, sophisticated scams in China, and leaked tests. And then, of course, there is the more recent exploitation of extended time featured in #OperationVarsityBlues.

Most importantly, it has long been known that the SAT favors wealthier white and Asian students, with large gaps between their performance and that of black and Hispanic students.

The fact that the College Board has their finger in another pie while failing to fix the major issues with the content and administration of the SAT feels like a giant smokescreen. While we were worrying about all the cheating going on and inherent biases in the test, the College Board was developing this shiny new tool. Tough to get excited about that.

At a time when people are clamoring for more transparency in the process, we now have a new score that is shrouded in secrecy. We don’t know much about how the score is tabulated, we don’t know which colleges have adopted it thus far, and a student will never know what is reported as their score.

The ECD could very well be the tool that will finally help to increase diversity at colleges across the country. I applaud that goal and really hope that it is achieved. But I can’t help but wish that the College Board would do one thing well—delivering equitable tests and more foolproof delivery systems for those tests—rather than doing so many things at a sub-standard level.


Written by Elizabeth Heaton
Elizabeth Heaton is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Before coming to College Coach, Beth worked as a senior admissions officer at University of Pennsylvania and an alumni admissions ambassador at Cornell University. Visit our website to learn more about Elizabeth Heaton.