What Predicts College Completion? High School GPA Beats SAT Score

Preston Cooper, writing for Forbes, has reviewed a new article by Matthew Chingos of the Urban Institute that finds high school GPA to be a better predictor of college completion than SAT score. For excerpts from the article, see below: 

For obvious reasons, students who exhibit better academic preparation in high school are more likely to complete college. But “academic preparation” can mean different things. There are two primary ways to measure a student’s academic aptitude: scores on standardized tests such as the SAT, and grades in high school coursework.

The SAT and similar tests exist to account for differences in how high schools grade students. Some teachers feel pressured to give students high marks despite middling academic performance, a phenomenon known as grade inflation. Certain high schools may run more rigorous courses than others.

As SAT scores are a more consistent indicator of aptitude, one might expect them to better predict a student’s chances of graduating college than high school GPA. But Chingos’ research shows exactly the opposite.

A student with a high SAT score (above 1100) but a middling high school GPA (between 2.67 and 3.0) has an expected graduation rate of 39%. But students with the opposite credentials—mediocre SAT scores but high GPAs—graduate from college at a 62% rate.

Given differences in grading standards across high schools, GPA may not provide a consistent measure of a student’s ability in mathematics, reading, and other subjects. But GPA usually captures whether a student consistently attends class and completes her assignments on time. Students need to cultivate these behaviors in order to succeed in college, and such good habits can lead to success even for students of modest academic ability.

“Students could in theory do well on a test even if they do not have the motivation and perseverance needed to achieve good grades,” notes Chingos. “It seems likely that the kinds of habits high school grades capture are more relevant for success in college than a score from a single test.”

For more, see https://www.forbes.com/sites/prestoncooper2/2018/06/11/what-predicts-college-completion-high-school-gpa-beats-sat-score/#62f37e1e4b09