Do Students' Grades in High School Biology Accurately Predict Their Grades in College Biology?

Article excerpt

Students' increasingly higher grades in high school have often been attributed to grade inflation, which is an increase in students' grades without an accompanying increase in their academic achievement (Bartlett 2003; CBS News 2006; Rutti 2000; Wankat and Lovell 2002). For example, in 1972, 42% of students entering private universities and 25% of students going to public universities had A averages. In 2003, 70% of the former and 53% of the latter had such an average (Bartlett 2003). Students' higher high school grades are probably not due to students being smarter today than in past years, because these students study less than previous generations of students, have arguably the worst study habits on record, and have SAT and ACT scores that are lower than those of the past (Bartlett 2003; CBS News 2006; Honan 1998; Marklein 2003; Young 2002).

Although studies of grade inflation have been informative, most have included all high school students (i.e., not just those bound for college) and students' entire transcripts, not just "core" courses (e.g., science classes) that are deemed most important for college. Moreover, none have examined how grades in particular high school science courses are related to students' grades in the same science courses in college.

In this study we analyzed how students' grades in high school biology courses are associated with their predicted and actual grades in college biology courses. We wanted to answer several questions. For example, what grades do "typical" students make in their high school biology courses? Are these grades related to what these students believe they'll earn in their college biology courses? What grades do these students actually earn in college biology courses? That is, do students' grades in high school biology accurately predict their grades in college biology?


Site of the study and its students

The study included 1,837 students enrolled in a traditional introductory mixed-majors biology course at the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota. All sections of the course used the same syllabus, grading criteria, textbook, and classroom. These students had an average ACT composite score of 20 (for comparison, the national average is 21; Minnesota Office of Higher Education 2006), an average high school rank of 57%, an average age of 20, and a gender-distribution of 49% female and 51% male. Students' ethnic diversity was as follows: 17% African American, 2% American Indian, 16% Asian American, 4% Chicano, 58% Caucasian, and 3% Other. Students came from a diverse array of high schools, most of which were in the Midwest. We excluded students who failed the biology course because of academic misconduct, as well as students whose records did not include high school GPAs.


Students' interests, GPAs, and graduation rates. We used institutional records to obtain students' high school grades, GPAs, and graduation percentiles. We calculated GPAs by awarding four points for an A, three points for a B, two points for a C, one point for a D, and no points for an F.

Students' attitudes and expectations. At the beginning of the first day of class in college, we administered a survey that asked students to agree with, disagree with, or not respond to the following statements: (a) High school prepared me well for the academic challenges of college. (b) I am confident that I will graduate from college within five years. (c) Classes in high school were challenging. (d) I will earn a(n)--in this course. (e) In high school I studied an average of--hours per night. Students were also asked if they were interested in a career related to biology and/or medicine, a nonbiological science, or a career unrelated to science. Students' responses were anonymous, optional, and tallied after final grades were submitted.


High school grades

In their high school biology courses, 35% of students in this study earned an A, 58% earned a B, and 7% earned a C; no student earned a D or F in high school biology. …