Early GPA strong indicator of future academic success

Early GPA strong indicator of future academic success

(Ill.) Freshman grade point average may be the best gauge of future student achievement and an important indicator of which children need extra support, according to a study from the University of Chicago.

Researchers from the from the University’s Chicago Consortium on School Research found that, while many local, state and national education agencies often rely heavily on test scores as measures of student performance, achievement and college readiness, freshman GPA actually predicts many academic outcomes better than test scores.

“It is strongly predictive of eleventh-grade GPA, which plays a big role in college admission,” authors wrote. “Freshman GPA also predicts high school graduation, college enrollment, and one-year college retention, and, in fact, is a much better predictor of these important milestones than test scores.”

The study stemmed from Chicago Public Schools’ Freshman OnTrack indicator–an aspect of the School Quality Report Card–which is used to measure whether a student is on track for graduation, decided by whether or not a student received an F in more than one semester of one core academic course during their freshman year.

Researchers analyzed the grades of more than 187,000 first-time freshmen in traditional high schools in Chicago Public Schools between 2006 and 2013. To isolate the impact of students’ grades on later academic outcomes, authors of the report ruled out competing variables that potentially could influence the results, including students’ prior test scores, demographic characteristics, socio-economic status and whether the student completed honors or non-honors courses.

According to the University Chicago’s findings, students’ GPAs remained incredibly stable between ninth and eleventh grade, when GPA comes into play for college admission decisions. Among students who earned A GPAs (4.0) their freshman year, 99 percent earned As or Bs two years later. Of students who earned a B GPA (3.0 or higher) in freshman year, 75 percent retained a B average, 7 percent moved up to an A, and 18 percent slipped to a C GPA (2.0).

Additionally, very few students who had received failing grades ended up graduating in four or five years, whereas nearly all students with 2.0 GPAs or higher their freshmen year graduated on time.

Among those who graduated high school, about 18 percent of students who had an F freshman GPA went on to college, as did 35 percent of students with D averages, about 50 percent of students with Cs, 60 percent of B students and 70 percent of A students. Similar findings were made when examining which students persisted beyond their first year of college.

The report also showed gaps in grade earnings between girls and boys, and between different races and ethnicities. Between 2006 and 2013, about 47 percent of girls finished grade nine with a 3.0 GPA or higher, compared to almost 32 percent of boys. At the same time, 12.5 percent of boys had F GPAs, compared to a little more than 6 percent of girls.

During that same time period, 75 percent of Asian students in Chicago Public Schools earned a 3.0 GPA or higher, followed by about 58 percent of white students, 41.5 percent of Hispanic students, and 30.5 percent of Black students.

Students from more advantaged neighborhoods and those with higher incoming test scores were also found most likely to have higher ninth grade GPAs.

The study didn’t directly address the question of how much subjectivity in involved in grading–with authors noting that grades have long been criticized for being subjective–but researchers did suggest that, despite a lack of standardized criteria, grades do include an objective achievement component. Factors such as student effort, behavior and attitude likely influence final grades, researchers pointed out, but those factors also influence how student approach other aspects of their schooling that affect their academic outcomes.

“(This subjectivity) does not detract from the validity of grades; in fact, these other factors are likely to be contributing to the validity of grades,” authors wrote. “In addition to content knowledge as measured by standardized tests, teachers appear to be accurately measuring other important skills and characteristics of students.”

Researchers concluded that if districts continue to focus on freshman GPA and use that information to inform decisions regarding support services, schools may be able to reduce racial, ethnic and gender gaps while improving outcomes among all students.

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