NGUYEN: SAT landscape: a testament to complacency

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NGUYEN: SAT landscape: a testament to complacency

(COURTESY / EMILY HOLPUCH)

(COURTESY / EMILY HOLPUCH)

(COURTESY / EMILY HOLPUCH)

JULIE NGUYEN

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As a child of two immigrants, I often find myself struggling with the connotations that come with this terminology: yes,  I am a second-generation American. No, I do not have a particularly poignant anecdote to share.

My childhood was a marriage of two cultures that left me in a position of great privilege – one that vastly contrasted the conditions that my parents went through in this same country. The concept of privilege and how it differentiated my parents and I was never lost on me.

When I heard about the College Board’s SAT Adversity score, I was quite honestly rendered speechless. Under the guise of “plac[ing] students’ SAT scores in the context of their socioeconomic advantages or disadvantages,” College Board had managed to instead systematically generalize entire populations and further bury their own reputation as an institution. Under the SAT Adversity score system, adversity can now be ranked on a scale of  100.

This system is called the Environmental Context Dashboard, and factors like median wealth or poverty in a neighborhood/school help delineate a student’s “Overall Disadvantage Level”. College Board has decided that they are now able to establish a school or neighborhood’s “average privilege,” delineating that every student attending a certain school, regardless of the potential for vastly diverse socioeconomic backgrounds in a single classroom, will receive a score solely based on the average statistics of them and their peers.

This violates the whole point of an adversity score – to recognize an individual for the personal struggle they may face. A personal struggle that should not be considered or put into the context of their colleagues.

Despite College Board’s proclamations of student individuality, I had never felt like less of an individual than when they decided to conglomerate me and millions of other students around the world into our own respective bubbles of socioeconomic backgrounds. College Board is instead telling me that my level of adversity will match that of every other student at Roseville High School based on the percentage of students who receive free and reduced lunch.

Following the basically inevitable criticism of the SAT Adversity score, College Board spawned the assessment’s loosely related half-sister – Landscape, which functions with a very similar (some would even say identical) framework as that of the original Environmental Context Dashboard.

College Board also stated that it plans to provide more transparency on the adversity scoring to students and parents and offer additional high school and neighborhood average indicators.

As someone who has been raised in a household that always encouraged them to pursue academics, I would say that the college application process is one of the most important events of my life. Knowing that millions of students around the country feel the same way, hasn’t College Board owed us this transparency, to begin with? It would seem that one of the main consequences of a monopolistic grip on education is secrecy.

College applicants should have been able to see every aspect of their college application, to begin with. Why did it take national discontent for College Board to see this? The fact still remains that 50 pilot schools utilized the former process, and the students impacted by this shouldn’t have had to wonder what their scores equated to and how that might play into their fates.

Additionally, rebranding the Environmental Context Dashboard as “Landscape” shows little to no understanding of the criticisms behind the initial adversity score. Backlash surrounding the first attempt at understanding a wider demographic of students was largely concerning the fact that no two students, no matter their proximity, had the same level of privilege. Landscape now includes factors such as household structure and median family income that are indicators of the average statistic . . . from a high school or neighborhood. Just like the SAT Adversity Score, Landscape still lacks any attempt at analyzing any one individual’s privilege. It still assigns a group’s average statistic to an individual – completely overlooking any possible personal trials a student may have.

Considering the various forms of torture that the College Board has developed to keep its pockets well lined, I have a long history of disappointment regarding the institution. However, upon hearing about the SAT adversity score, I held my breath at the potential  – a nuanced and meaningful way to measure the background of students.

Instead, I, along with every other prospective college applicant in the United States, was given a subpar attempt at rebranding and a band-aid mockery of appeasement. Thanks, College Board – you tried, but your performance was definitely in the 20th percentile range. Would you like to try a prep class to boost that score?