In his testimony this week before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Michael Cohen alleged he threatened schools with lawsuits to keep Donald Trump’s grades and SATs hidden. And if there’s any criticism to levy against the president for the claim, it’s that it was a waste of Cohen’s retainer. Because while the president might feel that his grades and SATs reflect on his intelligence or ability to lead, data shows they are an incredibly poor predictor of a student’s future success. In fact, they are so inconsequential that even if I learned Trump was a D student who tanked his SATs, it would have zero bearing on what I thought about him. And that’s coming from someone who is, admittedly, not a fan of 45.
I do not remember my SAT scores or my college GPA — likely because they weren’t particularly notable. But also, those measures of my book learnin’ have had little to no bearing on my life. Any success I’ve had in my career came from an ability to persevere through hard times, adapt when it proved useful, think creatively, play well with others and maintain a constant insatiable curiosity. And not one of those traits can be measured by test scores or academic success.
That’s not just conjecture. Consider a report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling that determined submitting ACT and SAT scores has almost no bearing on the success of a student. That’s partly why the tests have become increasingly optional in college admissions.
You can also consider the fact that some of the most influential Americans were mediocre students by all measurements. Steve Jobs dropped out of high school. So did Walt Disney and McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. George H. W. Bush failed chemistry. Joe Biden was ranked 506th out of a class of 688 students at the University of Delaware.
That’s not to say that I don’t think Trump should release his test scores and grades. He should. And not because they would reflect poorly on him, but because it would help every parent and child who believes that their future hangs on academic numbers. Trump keeping his numbers secret simply works to perpetuate a terrible fiction that keeps the middle-class down.
The thing is that parents and kids put too much valuable time and effort into boosting academic numbers when there is little proof they will pay future dividends. Still, they’ve come to believe in GPA and test scores because they continually hear that the most successful people are the highest achieving in those academic arenas. What they forget is that the most successful people also have a tendency to come from successful families. Do they do well in school and on tests? Sure, because they have the resources and time to do well.
At some point, we need to realize that the characteristics that help make a person successful cannot be measured by GPA, SATs or ACTs. In Trump’s’ case the characteristics that drove him to the highest office in the land were charm, cunning, creativity, adaptability and profound gift for bullshit. And if there were a test to measure those things, he’d surely be on top.