Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Local Perspective on GED Policy & Process

The editors of the NY Times today highlighted one of this country’s most shameful systems—the GED testing process. The editors were pointing out New York’s deficiencies but their observations should be widely applied.

Although I appreciate the spotlight on this issue that too frequently slips through the cracks of the radar of education reform advocates and social service policy makers, I feel that the editors misunderstood the full range of issues.

The editors focused on the poor GED passage rate in New York; however, they drew a direct correlation between this problem and insufficient funding for GED preparation programs. In doing this, they neglected to acknowledge the problems with GED test administration offices. In DC, for example, the GED testing office placed high barriers on GED test registration in an effort to boost their passage rate. While this improved the city’s passage rate drastically, it did nothing to benefit the majority of GED candidates themselves. In fact, in the GED program that I formally headed, it had a negative impact on my program outcomes and my student’s morale.

GED candidates are required to take the entire 8 hour, five-subject GED exam in one sitting. However, they are only required to retake the sections that they failed. Most often, GED candidates will fail the math or the writing. For my former students, it made sense to take the test in full, knowing that they will probably fail one or possibly two sections. That way, when they attended my preparation program, they could focus exclusively on the one or two sections that they did not pass. They were motivated to stay in my preparation program because they already passed the rest of the subjects, and this knowledge motivated them to prepare for the sections that they missed.

In DC, the GED testing office recently implemented a rule requiring the students to demonstrate proficiency in all five subjects before they were permitted to register for the official test. The result—the only candidates who register for the test are the ones that can pass the entire exam. For the city, this resulted in high GED passage rates. For the high school dropouts, the removal of the test’s low-hanging fruit exacerbated the psychological barrier of preparing for the GED exam.

I hope that today’s editorial provokes conversation around remedying the issues surrounding this country’s high school dropouts and improves the GED preparation and testing systems. However, I hope that this conversation expands to include the point of view of the dropouts themselves rather than statistics that too frequently drive policies that are separated from the human face of the issues.

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