Kids and Predicting Future Success by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
George Mason University
Standardized tests are often used to predict how students will perform in the future.
Colleges use the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) to predict which graduating high school
students will succeed in the higher education environment. Few parents and educators
realize what the true effectiveness of standardized testing is in determining the success
of students in college. This article is an attempt to briefly explain the relationship
among standardized tests and other factors used in the selection process.
Colleges could use one measure to predict college success, but common sense says that
additional factors should be considered. Most colleges use a combination of the SAT and
the students grade point average (GPA). The statistical procedure called a
correlation is done between the students high school grades or their SAT scores and
their freshman college grades. The results are expressed in a coefficient, which can range
from a minus 1 to a positive 1. The scale looks like this (-1 ..0 ..+1). The
higher the coefficient, the stronger the correlation; direction can be either positive or
The correlation between college grades and SAT scores is
approximately r = .42. This value indicates a moderate positive relationship. In other
words, students who have higher SAT scores tend to do acceptable work in college. To
determine how much of college success can be predicted by SAT scores, a statistical
procedure called regression is used. The regression procedure calls for squaring the
correlation coefficient value (.42 x .42 = .18 or 18 %). The SAT explains 18% of the
variance in college freshman grades. The relationship looks something like this:
To further try to predict college success,
colleges will also consider a students grade point average (GPA). The correlation
between GPA and freshman success is r = .48. The squared value is approximately .24 or
24%. Twenty-four percent of a students college success can be attributed to the GPA.
The relationship looks like this:
Which of the two pictures most accurately represents what happens when we try to use
both the SAT and the GPA to predict college success?
The one on the right is the correct answer. The diagram on the left assumes that we can
use all the predictability of the SAT as well as all the predictability of the high school
GPA. Some of what contributes to a students GPA also contributes to the SAT score.
There is a redundancy, and we lose some predicting power of the second variable, which is
the SAT. The following graph illustrates this concept:
High school GPA is the strongest predictor so we assign it the overlap area. Penn State
University did a study to determine what effect adding a third predictor, class rank, to
GPA and SAT would accomplish. The study found that class rank only explained an additional
1% of the unexplained variance. In other words, knowing the class ranking contributed
little in predicting success in college.
What’s Your View?
Obviously, there are at least two
sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is
meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read
with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to: email@example.com, or send
written responses to the editor or to John Bonfadini, 7500
Forrester Lane, Manassas, VA 20109.
Studies have found that substituting teacher recommendations for SAT is just as
effective for predicting college freshman success. Colleges justify using the SAT because
its less subjective and universal in scope. One study found that student study
habits and attitudes in the eighth grade were more effective than the SAT in predicting
college success. Tests are usually good predictors of how people will do on other tests,
but when it comes to predicting how people will function in the whole educational
environment they are somewhat less effective. The general public has been led to believe
that the higher a student scores on a test, the more successful their college life.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The above charts show that over 66% of college
success is attributable to other factors not measured with the SAT or GPA.
A Basketball Metaphor
Ill use a metaphor to explain the SAT selection process. In the selection of a
basketball player for your team, if you chose free-throw shooting as the major criteria
for making the team, then you would never pick Shaquille ONeal. Most big men
dont make a high percentage of free throws. A players ability to shoot free
throws is easy to measure and standardized when compared to other, more complex basketball
skills. We all know it takes more than making free throws to be successful in basketball.
Running, jumping, aggressiveness, quickness, strength, and leadership are just as
important as free throw shooting. Taken individually or collectively, they are more
difficult to measure because they are usually done in combination. Foul shooting is done
in a more sterile environment, which only minimally reflects the other basketball traits.
Students in Virginia usually take the Stanford 9 Test and the new SOL (Standards of
Learning) tests. Students who do well on the Stanford 9 usually do the best on the SOL
tests. Also, there is a very high correlation between other standardized reading tests and
student performance on the SOL tests. The correlation coefficient for reading tests and
the SOL tests is approximately r = .9. This extremely high relationship indicates the
students reading score can explain the 81% of the variance in the SOL tests. The
other 19% is attributed to other factors. Students who read the best will score the
highest on the SOL tests. The SOL tests will do little to improve the predicting of
college success, because the students GPA and SAT scores already include factors
measured by the SOL tests.
Success Depends on Many Factors
A recent newspaper article commenting on my SOL research stated that I was a critic of
the tests. They are correct. Im not only a critic of the SOL tests, but all tests
that are used improperly. Academic intelligence is measured by most tests. Psychologists
such as Howard Gardner recognize there are many forms of intelligence which contribute to
success such as verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, intrapersonal
(insight), interpersonal (social skills), musical, and body-kinesthetic. Other
psychologists include additional forms. Speaking personally, I believe my greatest asset
is my speaking ability, which is not measured on any standardized test. Success in life
depends on many factors. Using only academic information, as shown in the graphs that
illustrate predicting college success, leaves a lot of the big picture unknown.