Schooled Reporting on education

Scores upon scores

Education | Colleges weigh the costs and benefits of using student data in admissions
by Kyle Ziemnick
Posted 5/29/19, 05:19 pm

Recent changes to the way the SAT presents student information have critics concerned about the misuse of data in college admissions. The College Board, the organization responsible for administrating the SAT, the PSAT, and Advanced Placement tests, released more detailed information last week on its new Environmental Context Dashboard (ECD). One of the three components of the ECD, the so-called “adversity score,” has come under fire for its “overall disadvantage level,” a 1–100 scale that purports to estimate how disadvantaged an SAT test taker is.

The College Board implemented the new measure to help schools assess students and to increase the credibility of the SAT, which is no longer mandatory at more than 1,000 institutions across the country. Many who oppose affirmative action claim the ECD acts as a Trojan horse for racially influenced admissions.

“Advocates of this change claim that it is not about race. That is a fiction,” Heather MacDonald wrote for the conservative Manhattan Institute.

Other critics argue that the new score attempts to quantify being “disadvantaged”—an impossible task.

“The dehumanizing message of the new adversity index is that America’s young people are nothing but interchangeable sociological points of data—and the jagged complexity of an individual life somehow can be sanded down, quantified, and fairly contrasted,” Thomas Chatterton Williams, a fellow at the liberal think tank New America, wrote in The New York Times.

The College Board responded to the criticism by claiming that the ECD is just a better way of doing what colleges already do.

“This is not an ‘adversity score,’” College Board CEO David Coleman said. “Nor is it a radical new approach. For decades, admissions officers have been searching for kids who overcome challenges, who have the drive to succeed that can’t be summed up in a test score.”

Coleman is right about one thing: The attempt to incorporate hardship into college admissions is nothing new. The disadvantage level analyzes students’ background in two main areas: neighborhood and high school. It takes into account factors such as median family income, percentage of single-parent families, the unemployment rate, and the crime rate. All of that information is already available to schools in pieces, but the College Board often requires colleges and universities to pay a fee to gain access to it.

None of these factors, however, provide information about the individual student’s family or situation. Instead, they give an idea of the overall environment, opening the door to generalization. Students coming from areas with stable, high-income families get lower overall scores, and students coming from areas with single-parent, low-income families would get higher scores. This puts colleges in a bind because if they use the ECD as a significant factor in admission, families of students in low-scoring regions have incentive to move to areas with higher scores to increase their chances.

Using hard factors like SAT scores and GPAs in admissions decisions makes sense, since colleges want students who will excel. In the past few decades, the influence of soft factors like socioeconomic background have grown, but any attempt to quantify societal measures will run into difficulties.

“My hope is the ECD will improve access for disadvantaged students,” tweeted Kristen Glasener, one of the researchers who worked on developing the program. “My fear is the ECD will be misused or abused.”

Associated Press/Photo by Mark Humphrey Associated Press/Photo by Mark Humphrey Tupac Moseley

Defying the odds

A young Tennessean graduated as valedictorian of his high school class and earned more than $3 million in college scholarships—all while being homeless. Tupac Moseley announced Thursday he will attend Tennessee State University on a full scholarship in the fall.

Moseley’s father died at the end of his sophomore year. Unable to pay bills, his family lost their house in February of this year, and Moseley lived at various relatives’ homes and a Christian retreat center called For the Kingdom (FTK). Despite that, he graduated from Raleigh-Egypt High School in Memphis with a 4.3 GPA.

In his valedictorian speech, Moseley thanked his family, his relatives, his teachers, and FTK for their support. He also talked about the effort it took to make it through school without a home: “I had to have the mental capability and capacity to focus on, ‘OK. I still have to get this scholarship done. I still have to get this essay done, even though I don’t know where I’m going to be the next day, physically be, or what I’m going to eat the next day.’” —K.Z.

Associated Press/Photo by Matthew Westmoreland (file) Associated Press/Photo by Matthew Westmoreland (file) Riley Howell

Honoring a fallen student

Riley Howell, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte student who was killed as he tackled a gunman in his classroom on April 30, posthumously won the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. State and city police officers presented the awards last week to the family of the 21-year-old Army ROTC cadet on his behalf.

Thomas Matteo, a Vietnam War veteran and president of the Purple Heart Society, donated the awards.

When a shooter entered his classroom, Howell ran at him, tackled him, and bought time for police to apprehend the assailant. Howell, who sustained three gunshots, was killed, along with 19-year-old Ellis R. Parlier. Howell received a memorial service with military honors.

“Maybe it was God that moved the levers, that put Riley in that classroom on that day, at the exact time for the purpose of saving others,” said Kevin Westmoreland, the father of Howell’s girlfriend.

Four others were wounded in the shooting. Former UNC Charlotte student Trystan Terrell, 22, faces charges of murder, attempted murder, and other offenses in the shooting. —K.Z.

Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin Nihar Janga at the finals of the National Geographic GeoBee in Washington last week

Texas student and Christian groups excel in GeoBee

Fourteen-year-old Nihar Janga from Austin, Texas, added to his impressive trophy case last week, winning the 31st annual National Geographic GeoBee quiz competition in Washington, D.C. Janga was the co-winner of the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee and a top 10 finalist in the 2018 GeoBee.

Janga won a $25,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society, and an expedition to the Galápagos Islands aboard the National Geographic cruise ship Endeavour II.

Four fifth grade students from Flushing Christian School (FCS) in Flushing, N.Y., took home first prize in the first GeoChallenge, a group project aimed at solving modern problems. The students built a model filtration machine designed to clear plastic from the Hudson River. The team won $25,000 and support for their project.

A group from the Epiphany Stars Homeschool Co-op in St. Louis grabbed second place, and the third-place team came from St. Francis Episcopal School in Houston. —K.Z.

Associated Press/Photo by Michael Dwyer Associated Press/Photo by Michael Dwyer Gordon Caplan (left) at federal court in Boston on May 21

More guilty pleas in college admissions scandal

Five more parents have pleaded guilty in the past two weeks in the college admissions scandal that rocked higher education earlier this year.

Some celebrities—including actresses Felicity Huffman, who has pleaded guilty, and Lori Loughlin—are among more than a dozen parents suspected in the bribery scheme. Two of the parents, California jeweler Marjorie Klapper and New York lawyer Gordon Caplan, pleaded guilty to paying thousands of dollars to have their children’s ACT scores increased. Others who entered guilty pleas this week included Agustin Huneeus Jr., a vintner from California’s Napa Valley; Robert Flaxman, a Laguna Beach, Calif., real estate developer; and Jane Buckingham, a Beverly Hills marketing executive. —K.Z.

Kyle Ziemnick

Kyle is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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