Yale was one of about 15 schools over the past year that participated in the pilot run of “Environmental Dashboard,” a new tool from The College Board that allows admissions officers to get more context for each application they read.

The dashboard shows three main data points for all domestic applicants, according to Connie Betterton, The College Board’s vice president for higher education access and strategy. Two “measures of disadvantage” are displayed — for the student’s neighbourhood and high school, respectively. The dashboard also shows the student’s standardized test scores in the context of their schools rather than giving national percentiles.

“It is a great tool that I think helped us identify kids who have overcome significant contextual adversity in a very race-neutral way and a very data-driven way,” said Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid. “It really helped drive home more of the contextual background on some students.”

Betterton said that The College Board decided to create the tool because many of its member colleges wanted to have a more data-driven way to contextualize applications but could not build such a tool themselves.

Having both neighbourhood and school context was especially helpful, Quinlan said. He explained that this allowed the admissions officers, for instance, to better understand the backgrounds of students who might be attending magnet high schools that send lots of graduates to Yale, but still live in more disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

The measures of disadvantage on the dashboard are reported on a scale from one to 100, where one indicates the least disadvantaged applicants. They also consist of multiple subcomponents, like average neighbourhood income and crime data for neighbourhoods, as well as rate of college attendance and broader education data for high schools.

According to Betterton, The College Board used a lot of its own data — in addition to available census data and official crime statistics, among other sources — to calculate the information displayed on the dashboard. The organization used both internal and external researchers when putting the data together.

She added that The College Board decided what information would be helpful to show on the dashboard by consulting researchers who have done studies on how to define educational disadvantage, doing research together with practitioners, and talking with admissions officers to see what information they would find useful.

Betterton said that as a part of the pilot, each university was required to submit multiple rounds of feedback on the tool to help The College Board make it better in the future. Based on that feedback, the organization already added “institutional adversity level” — the average level of disadvantage of an admitted student — alongside the applicant’s disadvantage measure, she said.

“The folks in this pilot round found [the dashboard] very useful and consistently helpful,” Betterton said. “Especially for institutions like Yale that get so many kids from so many high schools … it’s a nice consistent way to identify disadvantage if it doesn’t necessarily come through in rest of application.”

This year, The College Board expanded the dashboard to include roughly 60 colleges, and the broader launch is scheduled for the fall of 2019, Betterton said.

Anastasiia Posnova | anastasiia.posnova@yale.edu