College Board announces Environmental Context Dashboard

Henry Owens and Hanna Hornfeld

The College Board announced their plans to implement a new admissions tool called the Environmental Context Dashboard (ECD) last Thursday, with the goal of providing colleges with more information about students than the SAT test score alone, according to the College Board website.

Some news outlets have referred to the ECD as an “adversity score,” a term that the College Board says is inaccurate. The ECD is not a score, but a set of information that helps better contextualize the SAT score, and has no effect on students’ actual SAT scores.

The ECD includes statistics from the student’s neighborhood about income, housing, education, and crime; information about the student’s high school such as class size, and AP opportunity; and how the student’s score compares with the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile at their school. One aspect of the Dashboard is a ‘disadvantage level’ which is a scale from 1 to 100 (100 being most disadvantaged) that acts as an average for all the information presented.

Associate Director of College Counseling Frank Cabrera does not feel that the ECD will have a major impact on the college admissions process, he said. “A score is certainly new, but in admissions, we have always been trained to understand the context from which an applicant is coming from.”

“Even as a first year admissions officer back in the 1990s, I was trained to consider a variety of contextual factors when reviewing applications,” Director of College Counseling Canh Oxelson said. “The difference today is that the College Board is attempting to quantify this context for colleges.”

The purpose of the ECD is to give college admissions officials an idea of an applicant’s socioeconomic background, and to compare students with others in similar situations and with similar opportunities.

“This is about finding young people who do a great deal with what they’ve been given,” said CEO of the College Board David Coleman in an official statement. “It helps colleges see students who may not have scored as high, but when you look at the environment that they have emerged from, it is amazing.”

The ECD was first tested at just two schools in 2016. Since then, the pilot program has expanded to 50 colleges for this year’s admissions process. It will be implemented at 150 colleges for the 2019-20 admissions process, and beyond that, it will be made available for all schools. Madhav Menon (10) hopes that the ECD will help increase diversity of thought in colleges, as opposed to simply diversity of race, he said. Menon did not say the ECD is a perfect system, but he does think it’s a lot better than having the just SAT score alone, he said.

Cabrera is hopeful that the ECD will only serve as an additional tool in the wide range of factors admissions officers consider when making informed decisions, he said.

However, students should understand that however colleges choose to include this score in their review of applicants, it is only one of many factors being used to understand their achievements, Oxelson said. “No one should get carried away with this score as there are a lot more data points that will be equally, if not more, important.”