It seems that the College Board may have extended the lifespan of its beloved, increasingly irrelevant SAT.
The College Board announced last week that it would abandon its controversial “adversity score,” a number assigned to students taking the SAT based on socioeconomic factors such as median neighborhood income and high school performances. They plan to replace it with “Landscape,” a tool designed to remedy the single adversity score’s lack of nuance. All schools that accept the SAT, including Emory, should opt into this program as the information contributes to a holistic review process. That said, Landscape does not change our stance on Emory going test-optional, and we still encourage Emory admissions to make the SAT and ACT optional to combat socioeconomic discrimination.
The College Board’s Landscape tool, unveiled Aug. 27, reflects the company’s desperate attempt to curry favor with schools going test-optional. Landscape will provide admissions officers in schools that opt into the program with layers of information about students’ backgrounds. According to the College Board, the tool provides colleges with six indicators about a student’s neighborhood and high school: crime rates, median family income, local average SAT scores, the neighborhood’s education levels, college attendance and household stability. The indicators are situated on a 1-100 scale to demonstrate the access a student had to educational opportunities.
However, Landscape falls short of remedying the systemic issues present in the SAT. For one thing, the tool only displays neighborhood and school data, meaning that it will be unhelpful in showing unique circumstances beyond this demographic information. Landscape provides supplemental information with the SAT that, while useful, does nothing to erase the inequalities of the test. The creation and administration of the SAT was historically rooted in racism, as the test’s original architects were strong proponents of eugenics, and these origins continue to affect standardized testing today by reflecting race-based and socioeconomic disparities in results.
Although Landscape does not resolve those concerns, it will still provide important context about the neighborhood of each applicant and the schools they attended. While we urged Emory to become test-optional last year, the school has yet to move in this direction and standardized test scores remain a required part of the admissions process. As an intermediate step, Emory admissions should utilize Landscape along with the holistic review tools they already employ to gain insight into applicants beyond their grades and test scores.
This year’s admissions scandal grabbed headlines, and it’s important to recognize that children from wealthy families are able to legally gain an advantage in almost every step of the admissions process, including standardized testing. SAT scores rise with family income, according to the College Board. Families with higher incomes have access to resources that are largely unavailable to those with lesser means, notably private schools and expensive test-preparation courses. Landscape provides context for admissions officers regarding these advantages. This will hopefully help these officers weigh SAT scores more fairly going forward.
Landscape is by far an improvement on the College Board’s previous proposal to provide a single “adversity score” along with SAT results, which would have grossly oversimplified a complex issue with admissions and standardized tests. The single score displayed high school- and neighborhood-level data that should be examined separately, such as crime and education level. Universities that opt into Landscape should be wary of using the tool’s information to generate a single metric, which would be no better than the original adversity score; they must provide each applicant with individual attention to their unique circumstances.
Questions remain regarding the unintended consequences that Landscape may have on the admittance of high-performing individuals from more privileged backgrounds. Implementing a new tool like this may also require colleges to hire more staff members or to create new forms of bureaucracy in admissions offices. It is important that Emory continues monitoring the results from pilot programs at other universities when deciding whether and how to implement the Landscape tool.
Beyond Landscape, Emory and other universities should place greater emphasis on essays, alumni interviews and individually-collected demographic information to ensure no student falls through the cracks. Colleges and universities must continue to work toward the most rigorous and equal admissions process by focusing on the applicant and their individual qualities, not their test scores.
Landscape is an attempt to save the SAT and the College Board’s reputation, but it does not redeem them. While Landscape is a small step in the right direction, it ultimately distracts from the real problem: schools need to equalize education, not standardize it.
The Editorial Board is composed of Zach Ball, Jacob Busch, Andrew Kliewer, Boris Niyonzima, Shreya Pabbaraju and Kimia Tabatabaei.