Updated at 3:52 p.m. ET on May 17, 2019.
Most students’ paths to higher education are shaped by numbers: grade-point averages, class rankings, and infamously, standardized-test scores. Now students taking the College Board’s SAT will have another number thrown into the mix: a “disadvantage level.”
This fall, 150 colleges will start using this new metric, designed to capture students’ socioeconomic status and give context to test scores, according to The Wall Street Journal. The College Board is using a number of environmental factors that influence a student’s home and school life—including neighborhood crime rates, housing values and vacancies, the community’s average educational attainment, and poverty levels—to calculate this disadvantage level, which is scaled from 0 to 100 and is based on census data from each student’s neighborhood. Scores above 50 points indicate that the student has had to navigate more obstacles than average to get an education or have access to college, while scores below 50 signify students who have enjoyed more advantages than most of their peers. While students don’t see or know their score, admissions officers will be able to see an “environmental context dashboard,” which breaks down all the factors that go into the score.
This system has been in development for the past three to four years, according to Connie Betterton, a College Board vice president who led the team in creating the score. A number of college-admissions offices have been involved in the process, telling the College Board what information would be most helpful for them to have. From there, 50 colleges, including Yale and Florida State University, participated in a pilot program to test out how to incorporate the new score into their existing application-review protocol and actually used it to make admissions decisions last year. The team developing the score found that colleges were most concerned about the talent they weren’t seeing, the applicants who might thrive on their campus but who have weaker transcripts due to disadvantage, the College Board CEO David Coleman told me.