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SAT soon could record social factors

To help colleges and universities with the sticky admissions process, the Educational Testing Service, the company behind the SAT, may soon label high-scoring students who have overcome adverse social backgrounds as "strivers."

The system still is in the research stages, but anti-affirmative action activists fear the acceptance of a model which takes into account a student's race.

Using survey questions at the beginning of the test, the system would consider 14 factors in determining a student's environment.

Issues such as parents' education level, family income amounts, attendance of inner-city schools, speaking English as a second language and having economically disadvantaged classmates all would be factors surveyed on the SATs.

Students who scored at least 200 points higher than the average student with a comparably disadvantaged background would merit the title "striver" on their scores.

Asst. Dean of Students Glenna Chang said the SATs have been criticized in the past for racial bias, and now it sounds as though they are trying to equalize.

Chang said she was unsure exactly how the University would handle the new information.

"My guess is that we would not take on this program unless it was proven widely successful by other schools," she said.

Karen Holt, Office of Minority Programs director, said it was unlikely that the system would have much influence on University admissions.

"We have a holistic process that takes so much into account during the application process that it probably won't affect us much," Holt said.

She said the tool would be more helpful for colleges and universities "that don't have the staff or the time to do what we do here."

"Many selective colleges already take into consideration the backgrounds of applicants, but this new system would provide profiles of students on a scale never before seen," said Joyce Smith, executive director of the National Association of College Admissions Officers.

"Can you imagine having a database of one million students annually?" Smith said. "From a perspective of having rich data, it's kind of exciting."

As an admissions officer, she said she would be more interested in acquiring socioeconomic information from the tool rather than information on race.

"We may get a more meaningful profile that we may use instead of our intuition or our gut," she added.

Black Student Alliance Co-President Fabienne Nicaisse said the tool may be beneficial, but that it could cause problems if race was one of the factors considered in the new survey.

"It's a good idea to spotlight students [for whom] it was more difficult to get a good education, but if you add race in, it will just be targeted as a minority preference system," Nicaisse said.

ETS will continue to research the proposed addition to the SAT, and a detailed study will be released in the fall.