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Caseythoughts Well, why not start with some relatively 'good news' this week. I use the phrase 'good news' guardedly, but here goes.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a new plan that was concocted by the College Board and that parents and students should be aware. You know: the College Board, the people who rule the college admissions racket with the Scholastic Aptitude Test system. Over the years, these mavens of intellectual achievement measurement (and lords of the college-bound hordes) have taken numerous hits from all sides concerning the true nature of academic readiness and how to measure potential collegiate success by subjecting up to ten million students a year, from thirty thousand high schools, to hours upon hours of angst (read: studying up for the test) and anguish waiting for the scores.

The hits and ire, most recently, concerned whether the SAT truly measures all of the factors involved in potential (predicted) collegiate success, and my guess is that most of us who have dealt with the SAT (as budding scholars, as parents, etc.) agree that its ability to predict success is lurking on shaky premises.

In that light, I told you a few weeks ago about the effort to 'level the playing field' and make it race blind, by the adaptation of an 'environmental context dashboard' which purported to give under-represented groups of students a shot at equal opportunity by combining fifteen 'socioeconomic metrics' (there's a brain-ful, not to mention mouthful) from the school, family and neighborhood to create an 'adversity score'. The higher the score on a scale of 100, the more the student's need to be considered as 'dealing with adversity' and was considered a positive admission factor, to be counted as a mitigating factor along with academic prowess and ability.

Well, they got blasted for this, although fifty colleges used this 'dashboard' last year and possibly up to one hundred fifty were set to utilize the metric this year. The College Board has now backed down and created a revision called 'Landscape'. Beware anything of a socioeconomic nature that has been given a new name due to political or social pressure. A skunk by any other name would still smell...well, like a skunk. The College Board said "We listened. and made Landscape better and more transparent." Sounds like they brought in Madison Avenue, or Facebook, as consultants.

I guess the biggest problem with the system (and it's a fair complaint) is that the old methods tended to skew towards white, male, and 'better off'. Colleges have stated that if they went by SAT scores alone to decide admissions, their campuses would look very male, very white and very wealthy. OK, that's a given and needs to be addressed, no doubt. Something had to be done. Interestingly, the children of wealthy and college educated parents tend to outperform their classmates in the math and verbal scoring of the SAT. I feel like replying "Well, duh...", but will refrain. I admit there is inherent unfairness, and it's easy for a white male in his sixties (we seem to be a castigated lot, and blamed for a lot more than we are guilty of) to complain, or minimize it, but that 'dashboard' was about to diminish many deserving students' chances for admission to the college they worked for, and this new 'Landscape' doesn't appear to be an improvement over the perceived and real unfairnesses.

Six 'challenge factors' now provide the 'summary neighborhood challenge indicator' and the 'summary high school challenge indicator' as they have revised the system of taking factors into account for deserving potential students. These factors are noted as college attendance (the parents'? the high school's?), household structure, median family income, housing stability, education levels and crime, all being measured in the neighborhood and the high school attended. These six factors play into the neighborhood and specific high school as well as the individual family measurements.

Somehow, the College Board is saying that these so-called metrics (I'm beginning to distrust that word, recently) will not be a score, as such, but will be factored into the math and verbal scores as an indicator of potential collegiate success, but in reality is an effort to accomplish a more representative student body and a more fair and balanced method of admissions. The so-called 'quota' system is legally verboten, but it still seems to haunt American society.

The admissions offices of many colleges claim they lack information on about 25% of the high schools of all applicants. That in itself is interesting and needs further study, too.

I guess they're saying that this effort is to make it all race blind and gender blind, too, but I've a feeling that no matter what is done, the only real way to make it 'fair' is first to admit that, as John Kennedy once said about another matter, "Life's not fair". That's not to say we can't, as a society, eliminate basic prejudices in our attitudes and everyday life.

Again, it's easy for me to say since I have 'no dog in that fight', although I do have grandchildren who are bound to be affected by all of this, regardless of fair or unfair.

But I stand by my assertion some weeks back in this space: decide what are the minimum standards acceptable for admission, the lowest SAT scores admissible, take into account faculty recommendations, extra-curricular activities, leadership activities and high school record. Once these minimums are set, perhaps setting these minimums according to major field of study (need they be set at a national level, just to be 'fair'? And yes, I foresee a lowering of the bar, but that's a fact in all aspects of our modern life, isn't it?) Then each college or university put all these names who qualify into a big rotating drum and decide how many names can be drawn to offer admission to the freshman class at each of these institutions. Draw out names in public, a la the selective service draft of recent history. Nothing but basic qualifications, and names, totally random. Random is fair, right?? Unless you want to argue that pure randomness is neither possible, nor fair, but that's a bit esoteric and not necessary for our purposes.

Dear colleges: Use your 'dashboard' or 'Landscape' to determine financial aid, which to some extent is the real issue. As far as I can see, the only really fair way is to admit everyone who applies to your college, but that is neither practical, nor fair. So, look at the most random way possible, with minimum standards to be met, and let 'er rip in a good old fashioned lottery. Makes me think of 'A dollar and a dream', or 'Ya gotta play to win'.

Maybe my real issue is with college itself as a concept and a 'right', and the perception that everyone needs to get a degree in the 21st century. If an American can't find a good mechanic, a reputable and reliable plumber, an honest craftsman/carpenter, builder, a good blue collar job seeker who wants to learn and practice a trade/skill, then all the fairness in college admissions, and all the colleges and universities themselves, all the king's horses and all the king's men, may continue to be a waste of breath, time and money. I don't need to see a diploma on the office wall of my mechanic, or plumber, or carpenter. I'm looking for more than a sheepskin, I'm looking for someone good at what they do, honesty, and a good reputation. And, I daresay so is most of our country these days.
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