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New study shows debate boosts grades, college prospects for Houston students

A remarkable new study of Houston high school debate students shows that participation in academic debate boosts grades, increases SAT scores in both math and reading, and improves college readiness.

The authors of the study, Dr. Briana Mezuk and Tomohiro M. Ko of the University of Michigan, analyzed data on 35,788 students in the Houston Independent School District, including 1,145 students who participated in debate over the years 2012-2015. The authors concluded that students who participated in high school debate demonstrated real improvements in academic performance and college readiness. The study observed:

  • Debaters earned higher GPAs (0.66) than comparable non-debate students;

  • Debaters gained 52 points on their SAT Math exam scores over comparable non-debate students;

  • Debaters gained 57 points on the SAT Evidence-based Reading and Writing exam scores over comparable non-debate students; and

  • Debaters were 18% more likely to meet the College Board's benchmarks for college readiness than comparable non-debate students.

The study, funded with a grant by the CITI Foundation in collaboration with the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL), improves on prior research by comparing debate students not just against the general population of students, but comparing debaters specifically to students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds and prior academic achievement who did not choose to debate in high school.

NAUDL published both the results of the study and the Mezuk/Ko paper itself on its website.

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