Student Success

Project Aims to Dispel 'Misguided Notions and Outdated Assumptions' about College Readiness

Policymakers and education leaders are often working with "misguided" ideas about student success and college readiness, and researchers at the University of Chicago are looking to do something about that.

Project Aims to Dispel 'Misguided Notions and Outdated Assumptions' about College Readiness 

The myth is this: that a student's academic trajectory is set for college — or not — by the time he or she enters high school. The reality is this: Course performance in grade 9 is more predictive of a student's chances of graduating high school than all other factors — race, gender, socioeconomic status and prior academic achievement — combined.

Another myth is this one: ACT and SAT scores are the most important indicator of success in college. While ACT and SAT scores do matter for college access, grade point averages are much more predictive of college success. In fact, strong grades — earning As and Bs in high school — are the strongest indicator of college readiness and are much more predictive of college graduation than any test score.

Those are two of the myths tackled in a project undertaken by two research groups at the University of Chicago, which hopes to dispel "misguided notions and outdated assumptions" about how to help students succeed in getting through high school and college. The To&Through Project is a partnership undertaken by the university's Urban Education Institute, which has conducted years of research on Chicago public schools to understand what is relevant in school improvement and student success; and the Network for College Success, which designs and provides training and support to help schools build capacity in using research and data to improve student outcomes.

The "Mythbusters" project examines 10 myths against a decade's worth of research and data from the U Chicago Consortium on School Research and provide links to the relevant research.

Academic trajectory, for example, is better determined by looking at whether freshmen are "on-track" in the ninth grade — earning five full-year credits and no more than one semester F in a core class. They're nearly four times more likely than their off-track peers to graduate from high school, the researchers reported. The main driver of course failure is absences: Course attendance is eight times more predictive of course failure in the freshman year than eighth-grade test scores.

Likewise, students with ACT scores between 21 and 23 have about a 50 percent chance of graduating college if their high school GPA is between 2.5 and 2.9. Yet students with ACT scores in the same range but with GPAs between 3.0 and 3.4 graduate from college at rates of nearly 70 percent.

Another prevalent myth: Students with the will to go to college will figure out a way to get there. The reality: Nationwide, while 80 percent of high school students aspire to earn a bachelor's degree, only 44 percent enroll immediately in a four-year college. The obstacles that hold the others back: navigating a complex financial aid application process and figuring out how to target their applications to schools that are a good match for their qualifications and have high graduation rates.

The full compilation of myths is available on the To&Through Project website here.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.