GPA vs. test scores: Who gets the PhD?

Thanks to a classmate’s research for the 50th high school reunion, Blowhards’ Donald Pittenger is able to compare classmates with high grades vs. high test scores. The report gave information on the 11 students with the highest grade averages and the 13 Merit Scholarship finalists in the 1957 graduating class of 650 to 700 at Seattle’s Roosevelt High.

* The overlap between the two groups was three people.

* Seven of the 11 high-GPA people were female.

* Ten of the 13 Merit Scholarship finalists were male.

* Only one high-GPA student received a doctorate.

* Five Merit Scholarship finalists got Ph.D. degrees.

* The one high-GPA Ph.D. was also a Merit Scholarship finalist.

* All in the high-GPA group graduated from college, but only five earned higher degrees (MA, MS, JD, etc.).

* Five of the Merit Scholarship finalists completed their educations at the bachelors level.

* One Merit Scholarship finalist did not graduate from college. He dropped out of Cal Tech to become a successful professional bridge player.

So the mostly male high-scoring group went farther in college than the mostly female high-grades group.

It’s hard to tell how much of the difference was due to the limited opportunities and expectations for women in that era.

I was one of 32 National Merit finalists in my class of 500+ at Highland Park High in Illinois. (We had more Merit finalists than any public high school in the country that year.) I ranked 16th in the class based on GPA. I earned a BA in English and Creative Writing, got a job and think I’ve done fine.

A few of the Merit finalists were not top students in terms of grades, but there was a lot of overlap.

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  1. JorgXMcKie says:

    Interesting, but limited, especially prior to the Women’s Liberation Movement success of the 70s. I was a part of a very small HS graduating class in western Illinois — 88 Boomers in my graduating year.

    We had one Merit Scholar and a couple of semi-finalists. Overall, the top ten GPA types did quite well. At least one PhD, one EdD, a couple JDs, an MD, a MSPharm, several advanced Ed degrees, and a guy with a Bachelor’s in Civil Engineering who oversaw much of the railroad tunneling and bridge building throughout the US for about 20 years.

    I’m prouder of s some of those who finished in the bottom half of the GPA range. Some really good teachers, a parochial grade school principal, at least one priest with a master’s in theology, a nun who is a chapter house mother (? — she’s in charge, anyway, and she has at least a master’s). Also a multi-millionaire in computer area, couple very successful farmers, some really great parents, and, oh, yeah, the guy who paid (until recently, at least) the biggest drug fine/forfeiture in US history — over $50,000,000 and counting (as they continue to find more).

    Quite a collection. I like to think that back in the day we all learned useful stuff.

  2. The idea of comparing long term results with teenage grades and IQ is interesting and important, but one needs to be very careful to get anything meaningful. A similar conclusion would be drawn from my high school in Portland OR 1964, but there is a serious artifact in the GPA data. PE was graded on a curve: girls from written test results, boys from physical performance. Thus the same girls who got good academic grades got A’s in PE, generally not so for the boys. Almost all of the top GPA’s were girls’. This kind of artifact and the fewer opportunities for girls at that time make me skeptical of the value of analyses from that era.

    I love your writing, but I wish you would lose the style book that tells you to write Cal Tech instead of the way they do at Caltech.