Here’s How a New SAT Evaluation Tool Could Affect Military Students

Here’s How a New SAT Evaluation Tool Could Affect Military Students
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This article by Karen Jowers originally appeared on Military Times, the nation's largest independent newsroom dedicated to covering the military and veteran community.

The organization that administers the SAT test will explore ways to address the mobility of military children in the college application process, officials told Military Times.

The statement comes in the midst of news coverage of what is being called an “adversity score," a new tool measuring socioeconomic aspects of a student’s current school and current neighborhood designed to give college entrance officials more context about how test scores relate to a student’s environment. The information will be used, according to officials, to help determine the resourcefulness of applicants.

Colleges and universities can use this information to help decide whether to accept those applicants.

But one of the biggest challenges facing military students -- frequent moves --  is not currently apparent in the new assessments, called the “environmental context dashboard,” being tested in a pilot program with 50 colleges and universities, said College Board CEO David Coleman, in an interview with Military Times. He stressed that for military students -- and other students -- “each individual student’s story is going to continue to be conveyed through recommendation letters and through their personal essay.”

Coleman said calling the new measuring tool an “adversity score” is inaccurate.

“It’s a context score,” he said. “All it does is give some general information about a student’s high school and their neighborhood,” he said. For example, all the students at one high school would get the same score for that high school, and all the students living in a particular neighborhood would get the same score for that neighborhood.

It doesn’t affect a student’s actual SAT score; it’s an additional tool to add some context to that score, he said.

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“Some people have gotten confused and think we’re rating or evaluating each student on their adversity, which would be absurd,” Coleman said, noting that the environmental assessments are general, and each student’s story is different.

“Really, the idea is to offer insight into resourcefulness, to show those students who, despite facing enormous challenges, nonetheless perform exceedingly well.”

Some military students end up attending two, three or more high schools because of parents’ changes in duty stations or other reasons. Asked how this new assessment might take into account a military student’s mobility, Coleman said it doesn’t, and said the College Board will look at ways to annotate their mobility.

Currently, colleges send the College Board a code for the current high school, based on the student’s application, to get the assessment. But perhaps the process could be changed so students could list all the high schools they attended, and colleges could get the context for all those high schools, said Connie Betterton, College Board’s vice president of higher education access and strategy who oversees the new socioeconomic assessment tool.

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Some in the military community have raised concerns about how this could affect military students. In a comment on the College Board website, Jennifer Loustaunau said, “Comparing my military child that is in their third high school in three states to the local population does a disservice to them. It will be impossible to ‘conceptualize their score’ in relation to their CURRENT school without knowing the previous ones.”

“The College Board is entirely devoted to clearing a path to college for military children as well as for veterans. While the general context helps some, we’d like to complement and refine it so it is sensitive to mobility,” Coleman said.

“I think that’s a fabulous idea,” said Mary Keller, president and CEO of the Military Child Education Coalition, in response to the possibility of adding multiple high schools to the application. “[The College Board] is really open to this kind of discernment. …

“This is just the beginning. It’s still in the developmental stages," Keller said, of the environmental context tool in general. "I think it has merit, and I’m encouraged by how much thought they’ve put into it.”

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The address used for the environmental context is the address the student provides to the institution when they submit their application.

If a college is one of those in the pilot program using the environmental context dashboard, the contextual information is provided to the school for all the domestic, first-year applicants.

  • The assessment doesn’t change a student’s SAT score; it simple provides extra and information and context for that score, Coleman said.
  • The assessment is being piloted at 50 colleges and universities currently, including Yale, Florida State, Michigan and Trinity. A complete list is not provided by the College Board, said spokesman Zach Goldberg, because part of the agreement for the institutions to participate is the information is not shared publicly. Another 150 institutions will be included in the pilot this fall, as they continue to develop the tool. The following year, they will make it available to colleges and universities for free.
  • The neighborhood and high school measures are percentiles ranging from 1 to 100; with 100 being the most disadvantaged.
  • Data for the assessment is based on publicly available data about schools and neighborhoods, including U.S. Census and National Center for Education Statistics data. But currently, neither individual students or schools are able to see the content of the dashboard.
  • For schools, some factors considered include the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced price lunches; opportunities for advanced learning such as the number of Advanced Placement courses, the average number of AP courses students take and the average scores. It shows how a student’s SAT score compares to those of other students into their school, but doesn’t take into account any other personal characteristics of the student, except for the SAT score.
  • For the neighborhood, factors such as average family income, housing stability and crime are assessed – but it’s based on the area, not an individual.

While the dashboard won’t have information about areas around overseas installations if a military student lives outside the installation, it does have information about all the Department of Defense Education Activity high schools overseas as well as those on several stateside installations. Most military students attend public high schools in civilian communities in the U.S.

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Currently, the environmental assessments are used only for freshman admissions, not for transfers, so it generally doesn’t affect current and former service members applying to college, because of the older data, years away from high school days.

“We as a College Board, in driving the conversation about the value of resourcefulness… will be in a good position, and we will follow up in our discussions with universities about whether it might also influence how they look at military applicants, veteran applicants. Those who have lived a life of service in this way have demonstrated the same kind of qualities that we’re celebrating,” Coleman said.

“The environmental context dashboard for the first time says that we must include in the definition of merit not just how much you’ve achieved, but your resourcefulness in doing so. Not just look at the raw score, but look at what you’ve overcome, the challenges.

“What’s evident about our military veterans, is that colleges, when looking at them, should be looking at their data, what they’ve achieved, but also should be recognizing them for the resourcefulness they’ve shown," Coleman said.

“I think there’s a big opening to prompt a larger discussion, and that’s something we do intend to do.”

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