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, whereas 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 found 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 and smaller than high school effects, and the slope of the relationship varies by high school.

The final, definitive version of this article has been published in Educational Researcher, 49(3), 198-211 by SAGE Publications Ltd./SAGE Publications, Inc., All rights reserved. © 2020

Click below to view at podcast from the Lumina Foundation, featuring report author Elaine Allensworth (January 21, 2020)