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ACT vs EOI – Are We Asking the Right Question?

Sunday night I participated in/monitored a Twitter chat hosted by #oklaed concerning the issue of using the ACT in the place of EOIs for students to qualify for high school graduation in the state of Oklahoma. I will admit that I’m far from being “Twitter competent.” Things move too fast and I get confused trying to follow all the threads. That said, I was impressed with what was NOT discussed during the hour of fast-paced tweets.

As I was going through my doctoral program, I remember reading research that said that the most reliable predictor of college success was high school GPA. I even mentioned that to one tweeter and was surprised that he was not aware of this research, but I couldn’t tweet correctly to get my message out. I kept forgetting to add in the hashtag!

Nevertheless, I felt challenged to see what I could find regarding the current state of research on the topic, so I went to Google Scholar and typed in “college success high school GPA.” I found an enormous number of studies looking at what predicts college success, with varied methodologies and nuances. After reviewing several of them, I determined that my initial impression from my doctoral study days still held. I looked at totally independent studies and studies funded and produced by ACT and College Board. All of them agree that college success in the freshman year below a college GPA of 3.5 is predicted equally by ACT or SAT scores or high school GPA. If we decide that “college success” essentially means passing the freshman year, high school GPA is every bit as useful as ACT or SAT.

ACT and SAT scores do appear to do a slightly better job at predicting high levels of success during the freshman year (i.e., college GPA above 3.5). These are the students that the more selective universities target, so it makes sense for students desiring to attend these universities take one or both tests. But, if GPA predicts reasonable success below the 3.5 level, why should ALL students be required to take it?

Some of the studies look at what characteristics of the students are determining their success. Most conclude that while ACT and SAT scores are focused only on cognitive abilities, high school GPA picks up on other non-measurable attributes such as effort and motivation. In addition, one study, the most recent I found, reports that high school GPA predicts retention and graduation rates better than standardized entrance exams. A study from 2007 shows that using GPA to predict college success has a less deleterious effect on minority students.

Given these considerations, why would we want to install the ACT as the final exam for Oklahoma students? And by the way, who will be paying for having all Oklahoma seniors take the ACT? John Thompson shared his opinion in a post earlier suggesting that some sort of portfolio project would be more reasonable and educationally sound, and I agree. As educators, we need to focus on eliminating these unproductive and costly tests, not robbing Peter to pay Paul.

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2 thoughts on “ACT vs EOI – Are We Asking the Right Question?

  1. Vicki Harbert on said:

    As a 35-year educator, I do not support using the ACT as an exit exam for all seniors , but I also don’t like the idea that after passing all HS courses, NOT passing 4 EOIs can keep a student from getting a diploma. Could the reverse happen? ACT is now aligned with Common Core. How does THAT work!?

    • Indeed, you raise additional issues that are a concern. Again, I don’t see any kind of “final exam” for high school an appropriate exit. This needs to be addressed ultimately at the federal level, to remove mandatory testing.

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