VALIDITY OF HIGH-SCHOOL GRADES IN PREDICTING STUDENT SUCCESS BEYOND THE FRESHMAN YEAR: High-School Record vs. Standardized Tests as Indicators of Four-Year College Outcomes

High-school grades are often viewed as an unreliable criterion for college admissions, owing to differences in grading standards across high schools, while standardized tests are seen as methodologically rigorous, providing a more uniform and valid yardstick for assessing student ability and achievement. The present study challenges that conventional view. The study finds that high-school grade point average (HSGPA) is consistently the best predictor not only of freshman grades in college, the outcome indicator most often employed in predictive-validity studies, but of four-year college outcomes as well.

A previous study, UC and the SAT (Geiser with Studley, 2003), demonstrated that HSGPA in college-preparatory courses was the best predictor of freshman grades for a sample of almost 80,000 students admitted to the University of California. Because freshman grades provide only a short-term indicator of college performance, the present study tracked four-year college outcomes, including cumulative college grades and graduation, for the same sample in order to examine the relative contribution of high-school record and standardized tests in predicting longerterm college performance.

Key findings are: (1) HSGPA is consistently the strongest predictor of four-year college outcomes for all academic disciplines, campuses and freshman cohorts in the UC sample; (2) surprisingly, the predictive weight associated with HSGPA increases after the freshman year, accounting for a greater proportion of variance in cumulative fourth-year than first-year college grades; and (3) as anadmissions criterion, HSGPA has less adverse impact than standardized tests on disadvantaged and underrepresented minority students. The paper concludes with adiscussion of the implications of these findings for admissions policy and argues forgreater emphasis on the high-school record, and a corresponding de-emphasis on standardized tests, in college admissions.