High school GPA may be better indicator of college potential

ALBANY HERALD EDITORIAL: A new study indicates SATs and ACTs are not the best measures of college potential

Anyone who has struggled through the marathon SAT knowing that the score could open — or close — doors at a preferred college and has probably paused for a moment during the exam to ask: Is this really necessary?

A new study this month indicates perhaps not.

“Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions” examined the outcomes of optional standardized testing policies at 33 public and private colleges and universities in the United States.

The findings by principal investigator William C. Hiss and leader researcher/co-author Valerie W. Franks indicate that a high school grade point average is a much more reliable indicator of college performance than an SAT or ACT score.

“With approximately 30 percent of the students admitted as non-submitters (of standardized tests) over a maximum of eight cohort years,” the three-year study’s executive summary said, “there are no significant differences in either cumulative GPA or graduation rates between submitters and non-submitters.”

The researchers studied the results of about 123,000 student records at institutions with enrollments ranging from 350 to 50,000 students. The colleges and universities were in 22 states and U.S. territories and included 20 private colleges and universities, six public universities, five minority-serving institutions and two arts institutions. The institutions examined were those that standardized testing optional as an admission credential, and they represent a 1 percent sample of all four-year schools and a 5 percent sample of those with optional testing for admissions.

Non-submitters, with the group focused on those with below-average testing scores by not including non-sumitters who had high testing scores, earned a cumulative GPA of 2.83, compared to 2.88 for students who submitted standardized test scores. The graduation rate for the non-submitters was only 0.6 percent lower than that for submitters.

“By any standard,” the researchers wrote, “these are trivial differences.”

Hiss and Franks also found that students with strong high school GPAs, despite wide variations in standardized test scores, generally performed well in post-secondary education. Those with weak high schools GPAs — including those who had high standardized test scores — had lower GPAs and graduation rates.

“A clear message: hard work and good grades in high school matter, and they matter a lot,” the researchers said.

They also found that students who were non-submitters were more likely to be first-generation college students, minorities, women, Pell Grant recipients and those with learning differences. While first-generation, minority and Pell-recipient non-submitting students would need financial aid, “large pools” of non-submitters offset that by not qualifying for or not requesting financial help, the researchers found.

The researchers also suggested that colleges and universities re-examine their criteria for merit awards, particularly the ones that use standardized testing for qualifying for merit funding that is not based on need. Non-submitters may commonly be missed for those no-need merit awards despite having higher cumulative GPAs and graduation rates, they said.

We wouldn’t discount the SAT or ACT test entirely. An additional measurement can always be useful. But the findings of the research does indicate that standardized tests may be having too great of an influence on college admissions by weeding out students who have other, arguably stronger indications of success. If nothing else, it is a reason for colleges and universities to take another look at their admission criteria to see if adjustments should be made to better serve students and to realize potential that could go untapped.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board