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GED Safety Net Is Fraying

For students who did not graduate from high school, the GED has  served as their last chance at an equivalency credential since 1942.  But recently the exam has undergone a major revamp that threatens to decrease the number of students who pass it ("A 'Sizable Decrease' In Those Passing The GED," NPR, Jan. 9).

That's because the new version is far more difficult, with more emphasis on critical thinking, as well as on science and writing.  It's the product of the new for-profit GED Testing Service, a joint venture between the American Council on Education, which has operated the program since it began, and Pearson, the giant educational testing and publishing company.

Although the GED has been updated five times over the decades, with predictable declines in participation the following year, the latest upgrade has so far seen a far more dramatic drop in the number of persons passing.  For example, in 2012, 401,388 passed. The report for 2014, which is incomplete, showed only 58,524 passed. (In 2013, 540,535 passed, as people rushed to take the test before changes were instituted.)

I'm certainly in favor of upholding the standards that the GED ostensibly assesses, but I wonder if the changes have gone too far too fast.  Let's not forget that for roughly 700,000 people, the credential is their last hope of improving their lives.  (In this regard, it's important to note that the GED stands for General Educational Development  - not general education diploma)  Any instrument can be redesigned to achieve any goal. It's always a question of fairness.  For example, California requires all applicants for a driver's license to pass a multiple-choice written test, as well as a vision test.  If the goal were to reduce the number of drivers on the road, the written test could be made much harder.  But what purpose would be served by doing so?

I realize that the GED Testing Service wants to assure that all holders of the credential possess "readiness for jobs and career and college training."  No one can argue with that.  But what evidence exists that  the exam has predictive value? That's why a different equivalency test called the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) designed by the non-profit ETS and the University of Iowa may be a better choice in the long run.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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