Why We Should Trust Teachers to Determine Who is Career and College Ready

Currently, Washington State law allows five pathways to a high school diploma. These are the SBAC exams, the EOC exams, college entrance exams like the SAT, “collection of evidence” policies set by local school districts and course grades determined by teachers who have spent an entire year observing and helping students learn. Four of these Graduation Pathway options would be eliminated if House Bill 2214 passes. The only option left would be the SBAC test – an unfair high failure rate test that is designed to fail 67% of the students who take the test! Students who fail this test during their Junior year would be required to a take and pass “rigorous” makeup courses during their Senior year to get a high school diploma.


House Bill 2214 would give Washington state the most rigid and unfair graduation requirements in the nation. There is no need to impose rigid and inflexible graduation requirements on Washington state students as Washington state students have historically excelled on both national and international tests. I have written an article detailing all of the drawbacks of House Bill 2214 which you can read at the following link.

In this article, we will review the research showing that high stakes exams, like the SBAC, EOC, SAT or MAP are not the best way to determine career and college readiness. For many years, large scale scientific studies have shown that the most valid and reliable predictor of career and college readiness is a student's high school Grade Point Average (GPA)– or the average of the combined grades from 24 teachers who worked with the student during their four years of high school. Here are links to and descriptions of three of these studies.

Defining Promise, William Hiss, National Association for College Admission Counseling, February 5 2014.” This study found that students who did not submit high stakes tests performed as well in college as students who did submit high stakes test scores.

Predicting Freshman Grades from High School Test Scores, Daniel Koretz, et al, Harvard Graduate School of Education, August 26 2014.” This study found that while high school grades in the state of New York predicted 50% of the variance in college grades that high stakes tests were only able to predict 33% of the variance.

Validity of High School Grades in Predicting Student Success, Geiser and Santelices, University of California, 2007.”
In a study of more than 81,000 students entering the University of California system, Geiser and Santelices (2007) found that high school grade point average is the most reliable predictor of college success. This study found that while high school grades were able to predict 31% of the variance in college freshman grades, high stakes tests (SAT) were not able to predict more than 21% of the variance. Note that SAT I is a test of general reasoning and SAT II are tests of specific subjects. http://www.cshe.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/shared/publications/docs/ROPS.GEISER._SAT_6.13.07.pdf


The same study found that high school GPA was also a better predictor of college graduation and college GPA than any other factor.


What high stakes tests are more closely related to is the family income of the parents. High school GPA is also fairer to low income students because it is not as closely tied to family income as high stakes single point tests.


Why is it that student GPA is a more accurate predictor of career and college readiness than high stakes tests that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to produce and administer? The simple answer is that each student is unique and has different aptitudes and life experiences. Some students do poorly on high stakes testing despite the fact that they have demonstrated understanding of subjects by doing well in their year long course work (a condition commonly referred to as test anxiety). Teachers who are able to spend time directly with each student are much better at assessing students than any one time high stakes test.

Why are high stakes exams more closely related to family income than grades?
The simple answer is that families with high incomes are able to buy test prep books and pay for test prep courses than poor families cannot afford.

Why we should trust teachers rather than high stakes tests to judge career and college readiness
This year thousands of students in Washington state are at risk of not being able to graduate due to failing a single high stakes test called the Biology EOC exam - despite the fact that these students completed and passed their year long Biology course! Failing to graduate thousands of students based simply on the fact that they failed to perform well on a single high stakes test would be harmful to students and to our states economy.

I therefore will introduce an emergency bill in the Washington state legislature next week that would provide more flexible alternatives to high school graduation if a student fails a high stakes test. Rather than requiring a 3.2 Grade average, we should only require a normal passing grade of “C” or 2.0 on any biology course or any other science course in order to meet the state science requirement. In addition, if a student passes any other course measured by any high stakes test, they do not even have to take the test in order to graduate. It is time to stop using unreliable and unfair high stakes tests to punish students. It is time to trust teachers who actually know their students best to determine who is career and college ready.

David Spring, M. Ed.
Coalition to Protect our Public Schools (dot) org