Study: Grades Are 5 Times Stronger Than ACT Scores

ACT disputes the findings.

February 3, 2020
 
Istockphoto.com/Chainarong Prasertthai

High school grade point averages are five times stronger than ACT scores at predicting who will graduate from college, according to a new study published last week in Educational Researcher.

The study was based on data from 55,084 students who graduated from the Chicago public school district between 2006 and 2009 and immediately enrolled in a four-year college. Across all high schools in the study, which included high schools with sharply differing performance, each incremental increase in GPA is associated with an increase in the odds of graduating college. The study did not find similar gains based on ACT scores.

“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,” said Elaine M. Allensworth, who conducted the study with Kallie Clark, both of the University of Chicago. “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.”

“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,” said Allensworth. “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.”

Ed Colby, a spokesman for ACT, said, "Research has found that test scores often show larger correlations with first-year grades for certain student subgroups, college majors or institutional characteristics."

He added, "Second, and more importantly, that’s not the point. These measures are not in competition with each other. High-stakes decisions such as admissions to college aren’t, and shouldn’t be, based on a single measure. Rather, the point is to take a holistic view of students and consider multiple factors. Therefore, the goal is not to identify the single best predictor but the combination of relevant factors needed for college success -- factors that are predictive of future performance and provide unique information about an applicant’s readiness to succeed."

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