High school grades are a better predictor of college success than SAT, ACT, study says

Credit: iStockphoto.com

Credit: iStockphoto.com

As California and other states work to define what “college and career readiness” means, a new study finds that a more reliable predictor of whether a student does well in college is his or her high school grades, rather than ACT or SAT scores.

“One of the core messages of this study is that high school grades matter, and they matter a lot,” said principal investigator William C. Hiss, a professor and former dean of admissions at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.

The study analyzed student and alumni records from 123,000 students in 33 colleges where SAT or ACT scores are optional for admission.

The results found that a student’s performance in college closely mirrored their performance in high school: Students with strong grade point averages in high school maintained similar GPAs in college, regardless of how well or poorly they scored on college entrance exams. Likewise, students with lower GPAs – even those with high SAT or ACT scores – had lower GPAs in college and graduated at lower rates.

“That surprised me,” Hiss said. “I did not expect to see the correlation was that close.”

The study, published Feb. 18 on the website of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, adds new fuel to debates over the role of entrance exams in college admissions. Students in the study who did not submit SAT or ACT scores were more likely to be minorities, the first in their family to attend college, come from low-income families, and have learning disabilities, the study said. Standardized admissions tests can create a barrier to college for many students, Hiss said.

“For economic growth and social stability, America will need to find successful paths to higher education for hundreds of thousands of additional first-generation-to-college, minority, immigrant, rural and (learning disabled) students,” Hiss wrote in a fact sheet accompanying the study. “This study provides the research support for optional testing as at least one route by which that can happen.”

The report comes as California grapples with the best way to measure how well schools are preparing students to succeed in college and careers. A 2012 state law, SB 1458, requires the state to incorporate measures of career and college readiness into a high school’s Academic Performance Index, the measure used statewide to gauge a school’s academic effectiveness.

The Public Schools Accountability Act Advisory Committee, which is tasked with making recommendations to the State Board of Education on meeting the requirements of the law, met on Thursday in Sacramento to continue its deliberations on how best to revise the high school API.  The California Department of Education has contracted with the Educational Policy Improvement Center (EPIC), founded by David Conley, a University of Oregon professor who has studied college and career readiness extensively, to provide a series of reports to help guide their recommendations.   The advisory committee met in Sacramento on Wednesday this week to continue its work on integrating college and career measures into the  Academic Performance Index, and to decide on what reports to commission from the Oregon-based center.

The first of the EPIC reports are expected to be delivered in April. The reports will cover the role college entrance exams and participation in Advanced Placement and the International Baccalaureate program play in helping prepare students for success after high school. At its Thursaday meeting, the committee approved additional reports, including one on career technical education and career readiness, that will be presented at future meetings. The California Department of Education has budgeted $50,000 for the contract with the policy center.

Michelle Maitre covers career and college readiness. Contact her and follow her on Twitter @michelle_maitre. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California.

Filed under: College & Careers, College Readiness, Community Colleges

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One Response to “High school grades are a better predictor of college success than SAT, ACT, study says”

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  1. Manuel on Feb 21, 2014 at 8:30 am02/21/2014 8:30 am

    • 000

    The SAT is the “classic” standardized test that is designed to always fit the Bell Curve. It is taken as a given that a student with a high SAT score must be highly deserving of college admission because s/he has demonstrated “academic aptitude” by getting such a score. Back during the campaign against Affirmative Action in California (Proposition 209, championed by Ward Conerly), the SAT was touted by many to be the proof that a student deserved admission to UC/CSU, rather than ethnic or economic background. Much has been written on the SAT’s true validity since then.

    But now we have a new wrinkle: standardized tests used by states, such as the now dead CST, were also designed to behave like the SAT. Whether they do as good a job as the SAT is still in question, but one thing that is undeniable is that, for at least 10% of California students, the classroom mark (aka the “grade”) does not correlate with the achievement bands defined by the CST scores.

    Given that school grades are given by teachers based on work in the classroom, it has been argued that teachers must not be doing a good enough job in preparing students for the CST (or the SAT). I find that hard to believe because then you would have simultaneous grade inflation and deflation.

    The best conclusion to fit the facts is that neither the SATs nor the CSTs actually measure intellectual ability. They merely tell you how well a test taker does against a preconceived notion of what it means to have such ability. Such a notion, of course, is subject to a number of bias that can certainly affect the outcomes.

    FWIW, I was once shown by a researcher the results of tests similar to the CSTs administered in Spain. Given the greater ethnic heterogeneity of Spain, the results could not be explained in terms of “achievement gaps” such as those we have in the US which are usually presented along ethnic lines. However, they did correlate highly with socioeconomic condition.

    We can’t claim that here in the USofA, right? If we did, then we would have to accept that poverty can be destiny and would have surrendered to the soft bigotry of low expectations.

    N.B.: there is a problem that As from certain high schools cannot be compared to those gained at others. But that is a subject for another occasion.

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