April 21, 2013

Tougher test standards set for GED

The more challenging exam, to be introduced in January, may be a 'steppingstone' to college.

The Washington Post

(Continued from page 1)

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Students Terrence Sinclair, 18, and Kent Tucker, 17, study woodworking in the District of Columbia’s Living Classrooms Program. The new GED exam that they will take should be a better measure of their capabilities.

Photo for The Washington Post by Amanda Voisard

A 2011 study by the GED Testing Service found that although about 60 percent of test takers said they planned to pursue postsecondary education, just 43 percent enrolled. Of those who went on, about a third dropped out after a single semester and only 12 percent graduated.

Without further schooling, the GED offers little economic payoff. Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman found in the early 1990s that America's high school equivalency certificate was not equivalent in the labor market. Those who passed the GED earned far less than high school graduates and worked fewer hours.

On average, GED recipients fared about the same as dropouts who never took the test, further research showed. One subgroup, the lowest-skilled test takers, did eventually earn bigger paychecks, but not enough to lift them out of poverty.

Heckman and other economists have concluded that the GED test is limited in its ability to predict success because it only measures cognitive ability.

"There are other skills that matter in life: showing up in class, doing your homework, getting along with peers - things that matter in school and in college," said John Eric Humphries, a University of Chicago economist. Such skills are more difficult to measure and more likely to be developed in school, he said.

But Turner said that by setting a higher bar with the tougher test, more people will be prepared to enter college without getting stuck in remedial courses, a common reason students drop out.

The new seven-hour exam will condense five subject-area subtests to four: Reasoning through Language Arts; Math; Science; and Social Studies. The test will require more analysis and a deeper understanding of mathematics. Instead of one essay, there will be two written response sections.

The threshold for passing the new test, like the current one, will be based on how a random sample of graduating high school seniors perform on it. The cut score is set so that about 40 percent of traditional high school students could not pass all five subtests.

More than just providing a number score, the updated assessments will come with a detailed score card that lists which skills the test takers have mastered and which are still lacking, indicating whether they have enough grounding in algebra to qualify for a workforce training program, for example, or whether they are prepared to enroll in credit-bearing college classes.

The new test will cost $120 per student, more than double its current cost in some states.


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