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GED 'Does Little Good' for Most Test-Takers, Study Finds

Although a growing number of high school dropouts are taking the GED, most who pass the exam discover that it doesn't help them much in finding improved economic opportunities or completing postsecondary education, a new analysis concludes.

In fact, through its widespread availability and low cost, the GED appears to be inducing some students to drop out of school, the study suggests. In 2008, almost half-a-million dropouts earned a General Educational Development credential, amounting to 12 percent of all high school credentials issued that year, according to the new study, published this month as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

"The GED is not harmless," says the study. "Treating it as equivalent to a high school degree distorts social statistics and gives false signals that America is making progress when it is not."

The study involved an exhaustive review of existing scholarly research on the General Educational Development credential. It was co-authored by three researchers from the University of Chicago: James J. Heckman, John Eric Humphries, and Nicholas S. Mader.

The researchers suggest that a core disadvantage facing many individuals who earn a GED is that they tend to have "noncognitive deficits."

"We show that noncognitive deficits such as lack of persistence, low self-esteem, low self-efficacy, and high propensity for risky behavior explain the lack of success for many GEDs," the report says. "Deficits of what are sometimes called 'soft skills' are often not taken into account in public policy discussions involving economic opportunity."

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