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.

Does a High School Diploma Add Labor Market Value to the GED?

Interesting reporting here, deep inside a story on D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s strategies to improve the D.C. graduation rates, on the debate over whether GED passers in the District of Columbia should be awarded a high school diploma, instead of the high school equivalency credential that is currently awarded:

During a meeting with OSSE officials this month, some board members had questions about the proposal to give a diploma, rather than a credential, to students who pass the GED. As of early December, 374 D.C. residents had taken the GED this year.In the District, you must be 18 to take the test, and many test-takers are older. But the shift could have a significant effect on graduation rates at alternative schools that offer GED preparation classes, such as Ballou STAY, which reported a 4 percent four-year graduation rate in 2013.

Currently, 13 states, including Maryland, award diplomas to those who pass the GED. City officials maintain that those who pass the test are demonstrating the same cognitive skills and abilities as a high school graduate, and a diploma could give them a better chance at getting a job or pursuing higher education.The GED was revised this year to align with Common Core academic standards, and the threshold for passing the test is based on how a sample of high school graduating seniors perform on it.

“I think it’s a valid approach, but I don’t think it’s the same” as actually attending and finishing high school, Laura Slover, an outgoing board member from Ward 3, said during a State Board meeting this month. She recommended that if GED recipients receive a diploma, they should be reported separately.

Some research shows that although GED test-takers can demonstrate comparable cognitive skills, they are less likely to demonstrate life skills such as perseverance that students develop by reporting to school day in and day out.

Great reporting by the Post‘s Michael Alison Chandler. A helpful primer on the issue not just in D.C. but in other states where this discussion is also taking place.

I’m not close to the local D.C. adult education scene anymore, so no special insights here, but I would just add a couple of quick thoughts:

  • Does the fact that the neighboring state of Maryland does award a high school diploma to GED graduates put D.C. GED recipients at a competitive disadvantage? I have no idea, but it’s sort of implied above.
  • There is much enthusiasm in the adult education policy world over initiatives that provide high school or high school equivalency faster for those who have dropped out of school, and in my limited anecdotal experience, not a lot of discussion about the quality and value of such initiatives for students over the long-term. If your system tends to use the number of diplomas or credentials awarded as the primary metric for assessing such initiatives, that’s not surprising.
  • I get that for someone who dropped out of school, earning a diploma quickly may be attractive, and thus encourage more dropouts to return to school, but I would think dual enrollment opportunities that offer opportunities for earning college credit while working toward that diploma (or equivalent) would do the same, and potentially have more lasting value. In any case, evidence that either really works as a motivating factor would be helpful.

USA Today: “Tougher GED Tests Mean Fewer Take Exam, Pass”

In case you missed it, earlier this month, USA Today published a pretty good article about the revised GED and its new competitors in the high school equivalency testing market. The piece includes a very handy interactive map showing which tests have been adopted in each state.

One minor clarification to the story: Nicole Chestang, who is quoted, actually left her position at the GED Testing Service at the beginning of the year.

North Carolina Justice Center on the GED

I’ve been trying to keep a special eye on policy papers outside the adult education world related to the GED revamp, particularly those that come at the issue from a civil rights, social justice, or economic policy point of view. Here’s one from the North Carolina Justice Center that came out back in November that I missed. It’s a good summary of the potential challenges that the new test may pose to low-income adults. It closes with a critical point:

While these challenges are significant, the changes to the GED test also offer an opportunity for states to reflect on ways to better meet the needs of this target population. (my emphasis)

This has been a point that I’ve been stressing (I hope) since the Pearson VUE partnership spurred several states to look for GED alternatives last year. Whatever you think of the GED and its new competitors, the rapid evolution of the HSE testing marketplace does appear to be forcing policymakers and state officials outside of the adult education office to spend some time actually thinking about the needs of this population. Whether this leads to more investment in adult education and/or policies designed to assist more adult learners to succeed is still an open question.

h/t Adrienne Harreveld