The New Environmental Context Dashboard “Adversity Score” and What this Means

The College Board (the nonprofit company that administers the SAT) announced it will provide an Environmental Context Dashboard (ECD) or what the media has labeled an “adversity score” to every SAT score report it sends to colleges in 2020. The ECD index will place students’ SAT scores in the context of their socioeconomic advantages or disadvantages. Factors that go into the ECD index include the proportion of students at a school who are eligible for free or reduced lunch, housing instability, and percentage of students who go on to college.


We want to start out by saying that we do believe that the idea behind the ECD is an admirable one. Taking into context a student’s background and adding additional information especially when high schools aren’t able to provide it, can be valuable to admissions offices.


However, from the many emails we have received from our families, as well as what we have read in newspapers, websites and magazines, we have concluded that the ECD is causing more questions than answers. For one, the ECD index lacks transparency, which leads to speculation and mistrust. Although the ECD claims to help admission officers view a student’s SAT score in the context of where they live and learn, the algorithm and research behind this tool are largely unknown. Students, teachers, and others have the right to know if and how this measurement affects admissions decisions.


Of additional concern, the College Board plans to report the ECD score only to the college. What this means is that the student won’t know if the score was calculated incorrectly. There will be no way to discern if the College Board made a mistake and there isn’t a procedure to appeal this score. Judging a student by statistics from his-her high school and-or neighborhood opens the door to many questions about what adversity really means and leaves out a lot of nuance.


Finally, we realize that so much of a student’s background, including challenges and opportunities, cannot be defined by a simple 1-100 number. We worry that colleges will use this measure as a short cut to avoid the holistic approach that has historically allowed students to truly express themselves and their particular circumstances.


Of particular note, the ACT is not providing an ECD score.  So, for families who truly want to avoid this evaluation, there is another option (in addition to test-optional schools of course!)


We are hopeful that the SAT hears our concerns and provides more transparency on what is reported to the colleges.


Have questions about the adversity score and-or anything else related to college admission, counselors at ICC can help you and your student. Email your International College Counselors advisor or call 954-414-9986.