Are impeccable grades as good as great standardized test scores?

I recently read this interesting Letter to the Editor in the Boston Globe from the perspective of an SAT tutor and college instructor and it got me thinking...

I remember the exact moment when I realized that the biggest intellectual surprises and accomplishments in college sometimes come from students who did rather modestly on standardized tests but had impeccable high school records. 

That moment was in the first few months on the job as a dean of admissions at a test optional college. I saw firsthand how students who chose not to submit test scores with their application performed just as well (and sometimes significantly better) than those who submitted their scores. You may ask why. That's because the students who chose not to submit their scores but had impeccable high school records were the students who had to really work for their grades. In many cases, they had to work much harder than their classmates.  But those were—and are—the students who far surpass expectations. I'd bet a whole lot on these students time and time again because that was me in high school.

I recently did a program for juniors and their parents at the high school I work at. We created mock applications and conducted a mock admissions committee for families to understand how colleges read and make decisions on applications. One astute parent pulled me aside at the end of the program and explained why his group chose to "admit" a student with modest tests but a near-perfect high school transcript. He told me very passionately that his group felt like that young woman was the student to bet on. She would not take her learning for granted because she had to work for everything she got.

He's right. That's not to say that students with strong standardized testing ability and equally strong high school records don't succeed... because they do. It's just our definition of success needs to include the students with the modest test scores and the strong high school records because these students perform just as well.