High School GPAs and ACT Scores as Predictors of College Completion

What's New

High school GPAs (HSGPAs) are often perceived to represent inconsistent levels of readiness for college across high schools, whereas test scores (e.g., ACT scores) are seen as comparable. A new study finds that students’ HSGPAs are five times stronger than their ACT scores at predicting college graduation, and the predictive power of GPAs is consistent across high schools. The relationship between ACT scores and college graduation depends on which high school a student attends; at many high schools there is no connection between students’ ACT scores and eventual college graduation.

Why It Matters

The authors found no relationship between ACT scores and college graduation at some high schools, and at many high schools the relationship was negative among students with the highest test scores. This suggests that colleges are overemphasizing test scores to determine admission to very demanding programs, or students with very high test scores believe they are more ready for demanding programs than they are in reality.

 

Most states and districts rely heavily on standardized test scores in their accountability systems as indicators of college readiness. Extensive time spent preparing for standardized tests will have much less pay-off for postsecondary success than effort put into coursework, as reflected in students’ grades.

The complicated relationship between standardized testing and college admissions has led to much debate over this topic, such as when a lawsuit was filed in December 2019 against the University of California system calling the use of SAT scores in admission decisions illegal, discriminatory, and unconstitutional. For more information on the lawsuit, see this Lumina Foundation video.