High School GPA may be the Greatest Predictor of Collegiate Success


According to a recent study published in the Educational Researcher, high school GPAs are five times stronger than ACT scores at predicting collegiate success.  Further, the study revealed that the predictive power remains consistent across high schools.  Moreover, while the relationship between ACT scores and collegiate success depends on the high school attended, at times the relationship was negative among students with the highest scores.

Across all high schools in the study, each incremental increase in GPA is associated with an increase in the odds of graduating college.  The chance of graduating ranged from 20 percent for students with high school GPAs under 1.5 to about 80 percent for those with GPAs of 3.75 or higher, after controlling for student backgrounds and college characteristics.

According to the authors, “While people often think the value of GPAs is inconsistent across high schools, and that standardized test scores, like the ACT, are neutral indicators of college readiness because they are taken by everyone under the same conditions, our findings indicate otherwise.” Further, “The bottom line is that high school grades are powerful tools for gauging students’ readiness for college, regardless of which high school a student attends, while ACT scores are not.”

High school GPAs might be strong indicators of success because they are based on many factors, including effort over an entire measuring period in many different types of classes, demonstration of academic skills through multiple formats, and different teacher expectations.  Accordingly, “GPAs measure a very wide variety of skills and behaviors that are needed for success in college, where students will encounter widely varying content and expectations.  In contrast, standardized tests measure only a small set of the skills that students need to succeed in college, and students can prepare for these tests in narrow ways that may not translate into better preparation to succeed in college.”

While the study is an eye-opener, schools still use the ACT and SAT for an apples-to-apples comparison, placing higher importance in those results than in the high school GPA.  For now, focus should be on maintaining the highest GPA possible while striving to achieve the highest ACT or SAT score possible.

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