Marisa Peryer

For the past two years, Yale used a so-called adversity score calculated by the College Board to quantify students’ background. The company’s chief executive now says that distilling a student’s background to a single number was a mistake.

In 2017, Yale was one of 15 universities to pilot the “Environmental Dashboard,” a College Board tool that quantifies a student’s background. But the company that administers the SAT is now revising that program. According to SAT administrators, the company created the tool to launch a data-driven way to contextualize a student’s socioeconomic background. But the plan faced criticism from those who said that an applicant’s background could not be quantified like normal standardized testing. Now, schools will instead be given a “landscape,” which provides admissions offices a series of data points considered to affect education. These points include the location of an applicant’s high school, the size of their senior class and the number of Advanced Placement courses offered.

“The changes that the College Board just announced were not that dramatic,” said Jeremiah Quinlan, the dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid. “They did remove the singular score — the adversity score — but most of the stuff we use in the process is still part of the [landscape] tool.”

The “Environmental Dashboard” was the average of two scores between 1 and 100 — one measuring a student’s high school environment and the other a student’s neighborhood. The dashboard also showed the student’s standardized test scores in the context of their schools rather than giving national percentiles.

Quinlan emphasized that his office always uses a series of data points to make judgements about applicants. He explained that the new tool was not a major departure from the Admissions Office’s normal procedures. But now, the new tool provides a consistent amount of information for each applicant, including those from schools that Yale does not typically accept.

“We were never particularly interested in a singular score… We were looking at the dashboard, now called ‘landscape,’ for each US applicant and using that to ground the rest of the application read,” Quinlan said. “So using that to get an understanding of the student’s background, neighborhood, and high school and having that inform the read we were about to undertake has been really helpful.”

He said that Yale has used the tool for the past two admission cycles and that he is “excited to use it for the upcoming one as well.” Quinlan added that the College Board has more information than usually offered to Admissions Offices to create the score.

The College Board uses its own data, in addition to available census data and official crime statistics, among other sources, to calculate the information displayed on the dashboard, explained Connie Betterton, The College Board’s vice president for higher education access and strategy when the program was being rolled out in 2018. She added that the organization used both internal and external researchers when putting the data together.

When asked about the negative media coverage the score received, Quinlan said that the media focus on the single score “missed the point of how valuable a tool it can be.”

“Having a singular score, as long as it is understood by the staff what that means and as long as it is used appropriately by professional admissions folks, I don’t think that it is problematic,” said Quinlan. “But I can understand that given the media reports, that they would want to make a few changes and I appreciate how responsive the College Board has been to some of the criticism about the tool.”

Members of the Class of 2023 moved into their dorms on Aug. 23.

Skakel McCooey | .