The SAT is Working to Equalize Higher Education

By Katherine Marin, Staff Writer


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Courtesy of Peterson’s

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved school. Statistically speaking, however, school does not love me. First-generation or ‘first-gen’ is a designation commonly allotted to students reflecting the lack of their parents’ educational attainment. As a first-generation student, I am four times more likely than any of my second-generation peers to drop out of college.

All too often, first-gen students who do manage to enroll in college are more likely to experience being less academically prepared, having and caring for children of their own, and working full-time. The prevalent rate for students’ failure in their pursuit of a post-secondary education can be correlated with low socio-economic status, a lack of support at home, and missing the ‘cultural capital’ of parents who can help their children navigate college. Statistics surrounding first-generation students are simply one demographic being used in the battle to challenge or promote the notion of the SAT as an equalizer for higher education.

In 2018-2019 the College Board, an organization which administers standardized tests for college admissions, piloted the Environmental Context Dashboard (ECD). According to College Board Communications, the ECD is a new admissions development relating to the SAT which “allows colleges to incorporate a student’s school and environmental context into their admissions process in a data-driven, consistent way.” The College Board highlighted that while some media reports have taken to the term “adversity score,” it is not an accurate label for the new development.

The ECD does not change the numerical SAT score received or use any personal qualities of the test-taker beyond the score; however, it does provide a comparison of a student’s score to their school, and contextualize the applicant’s neighborhood and school. While students will not receive their ECD on the SAT score report, the College Board stated an attempt to make it available for all. This feature is under criticism by academic institutions and the rivaling ACT for a variety of reasons including the ECD being solely available to colleges, the potential for dishonesty of a student’s home address, and the interpretation of an ECD as “soft bigotry”.

Yet David Coleman, College Board CEO, has made his beliefs clear, remarking, “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. No single test score should ever be examined without paying attention to this critical context.” What does this mean for future college applicants? Only time can tell.

It was only a while ago that I began to ask this question myself. When I had teasingly asked my parents what amazing place they would be taking me to celebrate my future graduation or what amazing gift I would receive, they replied with a confused look. For them, finishing high school and pursuing a college education is not something you reward with a celebration. Rather, it is just something you do.

To this day, I am proud to say I have not received one graduation gift. I choose to dream a little bigger, because I know that my capability and desire for achievement cannot be reduced or enhanced with a number or gift. However, I remind myself that not everyone is instilled with this mindset, that there are so many young people going through school and life limited by what they believe is possible for their future, that we just might be missing out on the exceptional.