Pomona, CMC pilot new version of College Board adversity score program

Several students, staff, and community members walk and bike along Pomona College's campus outside of Bridges Auditorium.
As part of its admission process, Pomona College is piloting College Board’s new “Landscape” index to better capture applicants’ backgrounds. (Chris Nardi • The Student Life)

In the face of public criticism, the College Board dropped its so-called ‘adversity score’ in favor of a new index — currently being piloted by Pomona College and Claremont McKenna College — that provides admissions officers with data about applicants’ high school and neighborhood backgrounds, according to the College Board’s website.

The new index, dubbed Landscape, provides basic high school data, compares standardized test scores within the students’ high school and looks at high school and neighborhood indicators. 

Landscape strays from the College Board’s initial adversity score initiative because it does not attempt to quantify adversity through a single number but instead offers a portfolio of a student’s environment. 

The College Board’s initial attempt to capture a student’s background was the so-called adversity score, the “Environmental Context Dashboard,” according to Inside Higher Ed. 

The score, on a scale from 1 to 100, would have been attached to students’ SAT scores to evaluate the hardship that existed in a students’ environment — the higher the number, the more adversity. But it was criticized by people who said one number couldn’t fully capture a student’s background.

The two new indicators in Landscape, one for the students’ neighborhood and one for the students’ high school, are produced using a six-factor data set that includes college attendance, household structure, median family income, housing stability, education levels and crime at both the neighborhood level and high school level, according to the College Board

The new system measures each factor twice, using an average to find the two final data points — one for the student’s neighborhood and one for the student’s high school.

The index also includes information on the applicants’ high school, such as senior class size and the socioeconomic status of fellow students.

“Landscape . . . allows us to better understand how a learning environment and home environment shape a student’s educational opportunities — this is data that can be quite helpful to us,” Pomona Admissions Director Adam Sapp said in an email to TSL. “That said, it’s one part of a multi-factor analysis. Landscape adds another lens through which to see an applicant; it doesn’t drive the decision.”

CMC is joining the Landscape pilot program in this year’s admission cycle, according to Jennifer Sandoval-Dancs, associate vice president for admission and financial aid.

The index provides “consistent facts about the living and learning environment of applicants, which gives us additional context when needed,” Sandoval-Dancs said via email. 

Pitzer College is not currently using Landscape, but is in “conversations” about the index, according to Yvonne Berumen, Pitzer’s vice president of admissions and financial aid.

Scripps College and Harvey Mudd College did not respond to requests for comment about Landscape.

According to the College Board’s guidelines, schools using Landscape agree to use it “only as supplemental information” to applications, to not use the neighborhood and school information in lieu of student-specific information, and to not use Landscape information “as a primary or sole determinant of an admission decision.”

In the 2020-21 application cycle, the College Board plans to start releasing Landscape data to students instead of just admission offices. 

The College Board has been piloting Landscape for the last three years, according to College Board. Currently, it has a research partnership with over 50 colleges, and Landscape has been well-received by 90 percent of pilot participants, College Board said.

“I think the effort to introduce diversity in every sense of the word is always a good idea,” Johan Dellgren PO ’23 said. “The marketplace of opinions thrives when there are people from every background represented.”

The College Board created the original adversity index to give college admissions officers context for a student’s SAT score to address the increasing correlation between wealth and high scores.

The new Landscape dashboard aims to remedy the criticisms the original adversity score received.

“We’re not going to try to sum it up in a single score. We’re going to try to provide general information about high schools and neighborhoods. Our real aim here is just consistent background information,” College Board CEO David Coleman told Ed Source.

But, some students maintain that Landscape is still not a good indicator of students’ backgrounds.

“Just because someone lives in a certain zip code doesn’t mean that they don’t have certain issues that would be expected for someone who lives in a lower socioeconomic status,” Peter Chong PO ’23 said.

Other students said it improperly makes assumptions about students’ lives without their permission.

“I think it’s kind of an invasion of privacy,” Liz Yoshitake CM ’23 said.

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