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Confirmed: High school GPAs predict college success

A new study questions the value of the $2.4 billion industry that helps millions of high school students prepare for standardized college entrance exams
Study questions value of college entrance exams 02:04

A newly released landmark study strongly suggests that students who have strong grade point averages in high school are likely to do well in college -- even if their standardized test scores are poor.

The higher-ed world has known for years that a high school GPA is the strongest predictor of whether a student will fare well in college and ultimately graduate. Now, this ambitious study, sponsored by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, shows that poorer SAT or ACT test scores did not impair a good student's success in college.

The researchers looked at the academic records of 123,000 students who either submitted ACT or SAT scores for admission, or declined to do so at 33 schools where such tests are optional. More than 800 schools allow students the option of withholding their test scores for admission, including such prestigious institutions as Wake Forest University, Bowdoin College, Smith College and College of the Holy Cross. It's assumed that students who decline to divulge their test scores earn lower ones than the submitters. An expert on test-optional policies once estimated that students who don't reveal their test scores generally score 100 to 150 points lower than typical submitters.

Thirty percent of the students in this three-year study did not submit their test scores. The research showed that the difference in graduation rates and college GPAs was minimal between these two groups of students. The GPAs differed by just 5/100th of a point, and the graduation rate differed by just 6/10th of one percent.

Researchers led by William C. Hiss, the former dean of admissions at Bates College, an elite liberal arts college in Maine, selected dramatically different institutions to survey -- 20 private colleges and universities, six public universities, five minority-serving institutions and two art schools. Those applicants most likely to forgo submitting scores were first-generation students, minorities, women, Pell Grant recipients and students with learning disabilities.

The study also showed that college and university cumulative GPAs closely tracked high school GPAs despite wide variations in testing. Students with strong high school grades generally performed well in college despite poor test scores.

The report suggested that schools should reexamine their admission policies to admit a wider pool of students who are likely to succeed. "There are dramatic choices to be made: the numbers are quite large of potential students with strong high school GPAs who have proved themselves to everyone except the testing agencies."

Bob Schaeffer, the public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), which advocates for less standardized testing, said "many more schools should end up test-optional" based on the convincing research results.

Of the roughly 800 schools that are test-optional, more than 150 are ranked in the top tiers of their respective categories. You can find the entire school list at FairTest.

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