We're sending too many students to remedial classes

'High school GPA is a really powerful measure of college readiness'

Compared with standardized tests and placement exams, high school GPAs are the best determiners of which students need remedial classes, according to a new study. 

Supported by the Education Department, Education Northwest researchers examined records of everyone who attended the University of Alaska full-time from 2008 to 2012. Students with a 3.0 high school GPA were 25% more likely to make it through college courses with at least a C-average than their peers who had high school GPAs of 2.0 or lower. The association between students' entrance exam or placement exam scores, however, was "trivial," says Michelle Hodara, the study's lead author.

"We definitely should be including GPAs when assessing college readiness," Hodara says. "We found the same thing that community college researchers and practitioners are finding, that high school GPA is a really powerful measure of college readiness, even for students who want to earn a four-year degree." 

Beyond test scores: Predicting retention using application behaviors

At the University of Alaska, 50% of all first-time first-year students seeking a bachelor's degree have to take developmental math, and about 33% have to take developmental English.

These noncredit classes delay students' graduations and run up their tuition bills. Students who don't need to be in remedial courses shouldn't be placed in them. Yet many schools still rely on SAT, ACT, and placement test scores to funnel students in.  

When students begin a math placement test, they may not have taken a math class in a year. But the subject matter frequently comes back to them once they're back in the swing of things.

And while high school GPAs may not be easily comparable, because some teachers grade more leniently than others do, "it's likely that if you have a high GPA, even if you're in an 'easy' class, you likely showed up and turned your homework in, and did things that are important for college readiness and success," Hodara says (Barshay, USA Today/Hechinger Report, 6/6). 


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