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Educators Say GPAs Better Indicator of College Success

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by Jennifer Edwards, TimesDaily


FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) – The item given the most importance in granting academic scholarships isn’t the best predictor of college success.

Higher education officials said it is actually a student’s high school grade point average, not a standardized test score, that is the best predictor of how that student will perform in college.

Dr. Thomas Calhoun, vice president of enrollment management at the University of North Alabama, said research indicates a student’s performance in high school tracks better with that student’s college performance.

“You can overall say that in general a strong high school performance is a good predictor for success in college,” Calhoun said.

The high school grade point average is illustrative of a body of work, while a standardized test is a one-time snapshot of a student’s ability, he said.

Dr. Robert Koch is the director of UNA’s writing center and the new freshman experience, a portion of the UNA amped-up student success efforts. He said a lot of weight is put on one morning of a student’s academic experience.

“When you look at what the ACT is, it is a standardized test,” Koch said. “That is a one-time shot. For a student (who) is a good student, (but who) does not test well, it is a disaster.”

A study conducted by William C. Hiss and Valerie Franks and published in February 2014 studied the college success of students who did not submit standardized test scores for college admissions. The study found a strong correlation between the high school and college grade point averages of students who were admitted without a college entrance exam score.

“College and university cumulative GPAs closely track high school GPAs, despite wide variations in testing,” the study concluded. “Students with strong (high school) GPAs generally performed well in college despite modest or low testing.”

The study found the opposite true, as well.

“Students with weak (high school) GPAs earn lower college (cumulative) GPAs and graduate at
lower rates, even with markedly stronger testings,” according to the study results.

But it remains true that most colleges and universities use standardized test scores from the ACT or SAT in granting scholarships. As the test score rises, so does the monetary reward. That’s because it is believed a college standardized test is an equalizer, a chance to judge the level of preparedness of a group of high school students from different backgrounds.

That’s necessary because not all high school curricula are the same.

“It is completely possible for a student to have done very well in high school and still be completely ill equipped for college,” Calhoun said. “That student might have a very good high school average, but the curriculum might have been so weak that it isn’t a good indicator of college success. If the rigor is not there, that student could be led to believe they are performing at a higher academic level.”

The best solution is to use a yet-to-be-perfected formula that gives a larger view of the college student’s potential and propensity for success.

Ideally that would include the high school grade point average, standardized test score, leadership experience, essay and other intangibles not measured by a standardized college entrance exam or graded in high school.

Higher education as a whole is moving toward that model but it won’t be a quick transition, education officials said. Adding elements to scholarship awards will make the process more labor intensive and more expensive for the college or university.

The flip side, and it’s a big positive, is that colleges would award scholarships to the students most likely to be successful in college.

“You create an incoming class that has been more equitably evaluated on their potential for success,” Calhoun said.

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