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 longer-term 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 an admissions criterion, HSGPA has less adverse impact than standardized tests on disadvantaged and underrepresented minority students. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of these findings for admissions policy and argues for greater emphasis on the high-school record, and a corresponding de-emphasis on standardized tests, in college admissions.

Publication date: 
June 1, 2007
Publication type: 
Research and Occasional Papers Series (ROPS)