Key Questions

1. How different are college graduation rates (six years after initial enrollment) for students with the same HSGPAs/ACT scores who come from different high schools?

2. Do ACT scores provide a stronger, or more consistent, prediction of college readiness across high schools than HSGPAs?

3. Is there less high school variance in college graduation rates in models that use students’ ACT scores and HSGPAs together, than models that use HSGPAs alone?

4. To what extent are high school differences in college graduation rates for students with the same HSGPAs and ACT scores explained by school characteristics?

5. How large and consistent are the relationships of ACT scores and HSGPAs with enrollment in a four-year college and with graduation rates after four years?


High school GPAs (HSGPAs) are often perceived to represent inconsistent levels of readiness for college across high schools, while test scores (e.g., ACT scores) are seen as comparable. This study tests those assumptions, examining variation across high schools of both HSGPAs and ACT scores as measures of academic readiness for college. We find students with the same HSGPA or the same ACT score graduate at very different rates based on which high school they attended. Yet, the relationship of HSGPAs with college graduation is strong and consistent, and larger than school effects. In contrast, the relationship of ACT scores with college graduation is weak, smaller than high school effects, and the slope of the relationship varies by high school.

This is a working paper. Working papers are preliminary versions that are shared in a timely manner, with the aim of contributing to ongoing conversations in research and practice. They have not undergone the UChicago Consortium’s full internal review process, nor have they received external peer review. Views expressed in this paper do not necessarily reflect those of the UChicago Consortium or the University of Chicago. Any errors are the authors’ own.