How Concerned Should We Be About the 2014 GED Numbers?

From an Inside Higher Education article published today on the reportedly dramatic drop in GED test takers and passers in 2014, after a new, more expensive, computer-only test was put into place:

Lennox McLendon, executive director of the [National Adult Education Professional Development Consortium], said he plans to ask about each state’s testing and pass rates, and whether there are differences between the three high school equivalency tests. So far, he’s not concerned by the lower number of test-takers and passers this year.

“That’s just the way the cycle goes,” McLendon said. “It’ll pick back up and a year from now, and we’ll be going full speed again.”

I hope this turns out to be the case. Here are Rhode Island’s reported pass numbers:

2013: 2,363
2014: 225

That is about a 95% drop.

It’s always nerve-wracking to highlight any numbers that suggest something in adult education is not working—it’s one of the unfortunate by-products of working in a field that is constantly fighting for its life—but from my vantage point there is no evidence to suggest that our teachers, administrators, or state directors are directly at fault for these numbers*, and thus it would be wise, I think, to examine these numbers carefully, rapidly assess exactly what might be going wrong, and determine whether the situation really will simply resolve itself without some kind of intervention. Otherwise, if the numbers don’t bounce back, the whole system is likely going to be blamed anyway—I wouldn’t count on everyone outside the field agreeing to simply pin the blame on the new test.

In my opinion, this is potentially a very dangerous moment for our field. If those numbers don’t go up in 2015 and 2016, it leaves the field open to claims of ineffectiveness. There is also danger in reflexively placing blame on the GED Testing Service. It might make some folks feel better, but we need to work with them to get this right, and I don’t see how completely alienating them helps. (Even if you are highly critical of the transfer of the GED to the Pearson/ACE for-profit, that’s what we are going to have to live with for the foreseeable future.) I’m curious as to what others think. Am I overly concerned?

*Here is what I mean by directly. It could be, for example, (not saying it is) that one of the problems has something to do with teachers not being sufficiently trained to teach the new test. But my guess is that if that’s true, that would prove to have more to do with the clumsy roll out of the new test and/or the general lack of funding for the field, which results in limited professional development opportunities.