Inflated grades, inferior college skills

“No matter what research studies may indicate, it will always be difficult to predict who will succeed in college.”

This is a brief story about one student at one of Georgia’s public colleges.

For all I know, she may be what researchers refer to as a statistical deviation, one of those results that the data simply don’t account for entirely. On the other hand, she may be exactly what she appears to be: a student whose high school grade point average was severely inflated.

I will call her Brittany. She graduated from a metro Atlanta public high school in 2011 with a 3.3 GPA and was therefore eligible for a partial HOPE scholarship. But her SAT writing, verbal, and math scores — where an 800 is the highest score a student can attain — were 420/410/330, and her ACT scores were no better.

When she applied for admission to college, her placement test scores indicated the need for remedial instruction in math and reading.

Students who place into remedial studies where I teach are given a number of chances to exit the program. Additionally, HOPE Scholarship funds can not be used to pay for remedial courses. That is a good thing in my opinion, because after three semesters in college, Brittany still hasn’t exited remedial studies.

Indeed, she has failed to earn a passing grade in even one full-credit college-level course.

Many educators argue that a student’s high school GPA is a better indicator of future college success than scores achieved on standardized tests like the SAT and ACT. They frequently cite the 2007 study conducted by Saul Geiser and Maria Veronica Santelices at the University of California, Berkeley.

Geiser and Santelices found that “the high school GPA 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.”

Other studies appear to show that a significant number of students ― perhaps as high as 15 percent ― who place into remedial studies do not benefit from that instruction. It neither effectively remedies their academic deficiencies nor promotes long-term college success.

That Brittany’s high school GPA failed to correlate with her performance on the SAT and ACT seems obvious. Does that explain why she has now spent three very unsuccessful semesters in college?

Not necessarily.

She may be dealing with personal and/or family problems that have affected her performance. Or, as a fairly recent high school graduate, she may still be struggling to find a balance between her new-found freedom as a college student and the increased demands of her course work.

If I have learned anything observing my students, it is that no two of them are exactly alike. No matter what research studies may indicate, it will always be difficult to predict who will succeed in college. This is one reason why many colleges are now using high school GPAs as well as standardized test scores when evaluating applicants for admission.

There is no way to tell if Brittany will ever regain her partial HOPE scholarship, or if she will eventually succeed in college with or without HOPE. It may also be the case that her academic problems are entirely of her own making.

But I can’t help thinking that her high school teachers share some of the blame, especially if they inflated her grades in order to make her eligible for HOPE.

Those funds should be reserved for students who need the financial assistance and know what to do with it.

Rick Diguette is an Atlanta writer who teaches English at a local college.

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