SAT – The “Environmental Context Dashboard”

I probably read about this in the WSJ article, but when I went back to look at it they threw a soft paywall at me, so I’ll link the CNN article instead. That’s a fairly good that’s pretty neutral and reasonably short.

While it did immediately raise some concerns, I understand what they are trying to show and don’t exactly disagree with it. The purpose seems to be to highlight above average students with adverse backgrounds because they had shown promise in spite of the lack of resources. The idea is that these are among the most exceptional students and when given better opportunities will far exceed the “standard.”

On the surface at least, it makes sense anyway. The people who persevere in the face of adversity do generally seem to have better outcomes. In a way, though, that’s the survivorship bias at work though. We get to see and hear about the people who pushed through and “made it,” but how many do we not hear about. What happened to them? Did they turn out better, worse, or the same for all the extra effort? Of course, this is a great opportunity to study that sort of thing and find out.

There are some underlying problems as well, though. I was immediately reminded of the kind of treatment Russian people received following the Soviet communist revolution. People who had parents from a working-class background, factory workers and the like, received more food, better education, and other benefits. Meanwhile, those from even a slightly upper-middle class background received nothing because “they already had the means.” It’s a dangerous idea, though a bit of a slippery slope argument at the moment.

It’s also been stated that this score will be withheld from the students and only visible to colleges. I… don’t like that. I think the lack of transparency makes it even more dangerous. For something as extraordinarily critical to your fresh high school student as an SAT score, used to make important choices, visibility of their situation provides much better guidance.

Of course, I’m sure they’re trying to cut down on people gaming the system. People from X neighborhood get a better score so we should live there. People with Y skin color are getting better scores, “it’s not fair.” “If I get a better job it will hurt my children’s chances.”

I can see how it would easily lead to some groups being subjected to ridicule, much the same way people react to affirmative action, and the strategically minded making sub-optimal life choices in order to get their child an edge. Without transparency though, it’s just as prone to administrative exploitation. The more I think about it the more ways I can think of for the people with the means, the ones that would have low scores, to bend the rules and snag a “better” score.

Having parents from a wealthier background can be a significant advantage in life. Trying to correct that “unfairness” administratively seems complicated and dangerous.

Y’all stay safe, and watch out for those invisible test scores.

“It’s the government, Hank! They’re coming to get me!” – Dale Gribble, probably.

2 thoughts on “SAT – The “Environmental Context Dashboard”

  1. I’m not in favor of it. I will use my own experience from near 40 years ago as an example.

    I come from a small town, my graduating class had 112 in it. I thought, or I should say my parents wanted me to go to college. It was a stretch financially for them to send me, my mom was a teacher making around $12,000 a year and my dad had his own company doing computer equipment repairs. Keep in mind this is 1981-82 so he wasn’t rolling in cash. I liked mechanical things and thought I was fairly good in math so my guidance counselor suggested I go for Mechanical Engineering. A cousin had gone to a top Engineering school in Florida, and I went down to see the campus. We were told my SAT scores were just good enough, but that currently I was just shy of their top 10% in class to be admitted. There was 1 person ahead of me. So they were willing to waive that part.

    What they fail to let you know is that now you are going from an environment where you consider yourself to be pretty intelligent and smart, to being at the bottom of a pool of others that are as smart or smarter than you. I could not handle it. The courses were extremely tough, and when you are surrounded by people doing better with less effort, it weighs down on you. I never completed my degree, only finished 1 year there. All these years later, I almost feel like I was set up to fail.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m fortunate enough, if that’s the right word, to have had both experiences myself. I was homeschooled for two years, got my GED, and entered a local community college at 16. One that I belive still only offers two-year degrees to this day. It’s primarily a trade school.

      In that environment, I was the low effort A student, at least for the classes I cared enough to apply effort to. Ironically, this is the school that all my transfer credits came from.

      After getting an associates, though, I went to a different school in Washington state. Literally oposite corner of the country. It was a very focused program, where I got no transfer credits, and cost as much per credit hour as an entire full-time semester in the degree before it.

      I didn’t make it past the first year. While I was more than capable of learning the material, I lacked the dedication and work ethic that an institution like that demands in order to succeed. Who I was, and how I lived my life at that time, was not someone who was ever going to succeed there. I went from mostly As to mostly Cs.

      I’m not sure where I would have fallen on this newfangled scale they’ve devised. I highly suspect that I would have been close to the “average,” only able to differenciate myself with test scores. This works well for me, because I test very well, but has landed me in many situations I wasn’t prepared for, both educationally and vocationally.

      Given that I’m now re-entering the college system, at least theoretically wiser and more experienced, not a day goes by that I don’t wonder if I’m repeating the same mistake. My orientation is filled with people nearly 20 years my junior. People who go to school, work second shift, then skip sleep to help run an event. I cannot compete with that, I still have to be able to function the next day.

      On the bright side, I’m not piling up thousands of dollars in debt doing it, either. I think instead of trying to report background information, maybe having the government cover the first year or two of costs in full, while people adjust to the realities of that life, would be more helpful. Heaven forbid these institutions, I dunno, interview people and learn who they are on their own? Okay, I’m going in circles now. Thank you for commenting, I always appreciate the insight other people’s experiences have to offer.

      Liked by 2 people

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