Grades, before test scores, hold the secret to success - Chicago Sun-Times
University of Chicago study, a groundbreaking analysis of middle-school
student performance that lays out which measures best predict success in
high school and college.
academic success are middle-school grades and attendance, far more than
test scores and demographic factors (race, poverty and the like),
concluded the study of Chicago Public Schools fifth- through
eleventh-graders. Standardized test scores are not the best predictors
of academic success, as our test-crazed world might have us believe.
implications are clear: the Chicago Public Schools should continue to
scale back its intense focus on standardized tests and turn to what
matters — boosting middle-school grades and attendance.
attendance and overall grade-point average in middle school were the
strongest predictors of actual school performance in ninth grade and
11th grade, both of which strongly predict high-school graduation rates
and college success.
a similar, well-established finding for high schools: grades are by far
the most important predictor of getting into college and eventually
graduating, more so than ACT or SAT scores or high school coursework.
at predicting future test scores but not as strongly predictive of other
outcomes we care about, like whether students will struggle or succeed
in high school coursework or graduate from college,” Elaine Allensworth,
director of the university’s Consortium on Chicago School Research and
lead author of the study, said in a statement.
of skills valuable in college and in life in general, such as broad
knowledge (not just reading and math), writing and capacity for
sustained effort. Standardized tests, in contrast, hone in on a far more
narrow band of skills. They have value, but too tight a focus on test
prep is counterproductive.
teachers from spending time on things that are more important for kids,”
Allensworth said in an interview.
far less variability in what constituted an A or B grade at schools
across the city than one might suspect. There is variability, as much as
a half grade point at the extreme, but it’s not enough to undermine the
predictive value of grades.
schools to identify kids as young as fifth grade at risk of failing in
high school based on their grades and attendance records, and to target
intervention to boost those two areas, which are more malleable than
example, that students’ probability of being on track in the ninth grade
goes from 66 to 93 percent, depending on whether their attendance
declines (from 97 to 93 percent) or improves (from 97 to 99 percent) in
the middle school grades. Students with attendance below 90 percent in
middle school are at high risk of not graduating from high school.
found that some middle and high schools do far better intervening in
these key areas than others. Among middle-school students that saw
improvements in attendance, grades and test scores, about half of the
differences could be attributed to the school they attended, they found.
Schools can have considerable influence in particular over attendance.
made improving elementary attendance a priority. Chronic absenteeism,
which has been unacceptable high for years, dropped slightly last year,
though it’s still early. The school system also has improved high-school
attendance rates and significantly improved freshmen pass rates, which
is a key predictor of graduation rates.
went up after CPS developed data systems to closely track freshmen and
added supports to redirect wayward students. Using the U. of C. report
as a guide, CPS should quickly set up a similar data system to track
middle school attendance and grades and give schools the time and
support they need to make good use of the data. That’s in the early
stages, we’ve been told. We urge CPS to make it a top priority.