College Board’s revised adversity score seeks to make admissions fairer

Ireland Wagner/Staff

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The College Board has revised its controversial Environmental Context Dashboard, or adversity score, to create Landscape — a tool that presents high school and neighborhood information about applicants to help college admissions officers consider students more fairly.

One of the largest changes with the renamed Landscape tool is its move away from combining neighborhood and high school backgrounds into a single average, which was previously perceived by many as indicative of specific individual information rather than background and circumstances.

“UC campuses have considered applicants’ context for many years. We are excited about the research and additional information Landscape will provide us as we continue our efforts to better understand the full range of academic and personal achievements of all students applying for admission,” said Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, Vice Provost of Enrollment Management at UCLA, in a College Board press release.

UC Berkeley, among other UCs, has come under criticism for the diversity of both its students and faculty. While the campus has recently admitted its most diverse freshman class to date, it still “clearly struggles” with diversity among its student population according to ASUC External Affairs Vice President Varsha Sarveshwar.

While UC Berkeley intends to incorporate Landscape in its application review process, the tool will not change any current procedures, according to UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore.

“The tool does not shift our current process … we consider academic and non-academic achievements in the context of opportunities an applicant has had, and how fully the applicant has taken advantage of those opportunities,” Gilmore said in an email.

Landscape operates on six neighborhood indicators and six high school indicators. High school indicators include the high school’s locale, class size, percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunch and performance on SAT and AP tests. Neighborhood indicators include college attendance, housing structure, median family income, housing stability, crime and education levels.

The six indicators from each category are separately compiled, normed and placed on a one to 100 scale to reflect comparative percentiles. A score of 70 for the Neighborhood Housing Stability Indicator, for instance, means a neighborhood’s housing environment has a higher level of adversity than 70 percent of U.S. neighborhoods. Institutions will have the option of viewing data on both state and national norms.

The tool could be particularly useful in states such as California and Florida, where public education institutions are prohibited from considering race, sex or ethnicity in the admissions process.

Diversity among students, however, can be achieved through means other than standardized testing, according to Sarveshwar.

“Implementing Landscape also doesn’t change the fact that the SAT … rewards wealthy, well-connected students who benefit from expensive tutoring and test prep services. I’d much rather that we made the SAT optional for undergraduate admissions,” Sarveshwar said in an email. “If the university wants to do something about student diversity, it ought to make the SAT optional, invest heavily in recruitment and retention services for underrepresented students, and partner with students fighting for the repeal of Proposition 209.”

Alex Casey is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @acasey_dc.