Students who face environmental hardships could get a boost in getting into college

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TACOMA -  The semester is wrapping up at UW Tacoma with students rushing to take their finals.

“I am about to go to my last finals and I'm about to kill it,” student Tommy Nguyen said.

Tommy is already in his dream school, but for high schoolers trying to get into college, the admissions process can be stressful.

Q13 News spoke with College Wise, a private company that counsels high school students through the admission process.

“The reality is no admissions decision is open to the public; I’ve sat in those committee rooms. There is a lot of debate, there is a lot of crying, there is a lot of yelling; it is a contentious time,” College Wise Counselor Tom Barry said.

Perhaps to add to that contention is a new score that will be provided for many colleges nationwide starting next year, and it all comes down to the zip code of where a student is from.

“It’s really trying to provide more context to a student,” Barry said.

The College Board that operates the SATs will give every student a new kind of score separate from SAT scores.

They are calling it the ‘Environmental Context Dashboard.’

The score is from 1 to 100, the higher the number means the student could be facing more adversity in their environment.

The question is how does the College Board come up with the subjective score?

Their website says they look at a number of factors within a neighborhood and school.

Things like poverty levels, crime stats, median household income, the number of single-parent households, even how many households rent.

“Colleges will get to do what they want with this number, including ignore it,” Barry said.

The reaction from students at UW Tacoma was mixed.

“I don’t like it at all, it should be based off what it has always been which is your SAT scores, but also your progress through high school, what you’re doing in the community versus where you come from,” student Joy Stewart said.

“I’m in the middle about it because I feel like it could help some students,” Nguyen said.

“At the end of the day I think it should be based on merit, and if your merit is the same as someone else. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing for you to have that extra person in your corner,” student Jordan Holland said.

Fifty different colleges have already used the scores in a pilot program, including the University of Washington in Seattle.

Students and schools were not able to see the numbers they were assigned in the dashboard, only college admissions officers saw that data.

But the College Board says they are looking into ways to possibly make it available for families.

UW Tacoma student Ben Hawley says he grew up in poverty but is still against the College Board’s new program.

“It would have helped me, but I don’t think I would have deserved it I am just like anybody else that wants to be in school. It should be based on where you want to be in life and what you are willing to put forward,” Hawley said.

The College Board released a statement from CEO David Coleman:

“Through its history, the College Board has been focused on finding unseen talent. The Environmental Context Dashboard shines a light on students who have demonstrated remarkable resourcefulness to overcome challenges and achieve more with less.  It enables colleges to witness the strength of students in a huge swath of America who would otherwise be overlooked.

There is talent and potential waiting to be discovered in every community – the children of poor rural families, kids navigating the challenges of life in the inner city, and military dependents who face the daily difficulties of low income and frequent deployments as part of their family’s service to our country. No single test score should ever be examined without paying attention to this critical context.”

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