act scores
A student's high school GPA is actually more accurate in predicting success in college compared to the ACT. Source: Shutterstock

A new study has shown that high school GPAs predict college graduation better than ACT scores, the standardised test that high school students take for college admissions in the US.

According to the study by Elaine M Allensworth and Kallie Clark from the University of Chicago, the relationship between ACT scores and college graduation depends on which high school a student attends, as they did not find a connection between students’ ACT scores and college graduation at some schools.

The GPA differs from the ACT as it’s a cumulative grade of all the grades a student receives during their classes in high school.

The authors of the study concluded their findings after examining a total of 55,084 students who graduated from the Chicago public school district between 2006 and 2009, and then immediately enrolled in a four-year college.

Their findings confirmed earlier research that showed \high school GPAs are better predictors of college graduation than SAT and ACT scores.

After controlling for student backgrounds and college characteristics, the researchers found that the chance of graduating from college ranges from 20 percent for students with high school GPAs under 1.5 to approximately 80 percent for students with GPAs of 3.75 or higher.

Allensworth, the director of the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, said that the bottom line is that high school grades – not ACT scores – serve as powerful tools for gauging a student’s readiness for college, regardless of which high school a student attends.

“It was surprising not only to see that there was no relationship between ACT scores and college graduation at some high schools, but also to see that at many high schools the relationship was negative among students with the highest test scores,” Allensworth said.

“While people often think the value of GPAs is inconsistent across high schools, and that standardised 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.”

She explained the stark difference between the two tests that could be the reason why high school GPA scores are more accurate predictors when it comes to a student graduating from college.

“GPAs measure a very wide variety of skills and behaviours that are needed for success in college, where students will encounter widely varying content and expectations.

“In contrast, standardised 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.”

Clark, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, said, “Extensive time spent preparing for standardised tests will have much less pay-off for post-secondary success than effort put into coursework, as reflected in students’ grades.

“The more that middle and high school educators can support strong engagement in school – helping students overcome barriers to engagement in class, helping them succeed at different types of academic tasks, so that they earn strong grades – the better these educators are supporting academic skills broadly and preparing students for college.”

A number of colleges and universities in the US have also chosen to go test-optional, meaning they look at high school GPAs rather than ACT and SAT scores when admitting students.

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