It’s been disparaged as the “good enough diploma,” sometimes dismissed by employers as a stamp of mediocrity. But the General Educational Development (GED®) test has been undergoing a makeover of sorts, as the testing industry seeks to “raise the bar” on the high school equivalency exam. Yet after a recent plunge in passing rates, it seems the new test isn't broadening the pathway to college and careers, as intended—just closing the gates on more adult learners seeking a second chance.
The standardized-test giant Pearson seeks to make the GED a more rigorous assessment for job and college “readiness.” But with a pricier, fully computerized format, those higher standards come at a steep cost. According to San Antonio Current:
About 350,000 fewer people will earn a GED nationally than in 2012, and close to 500,000 fewer than last year. The GED accounts for 12 percent of all the high school diplomas awarded each year.
In Ohio, 16,092 passed the test in 2012, and 19,976 did so in 2013, but only 1,458 have passed so far this year. … The drop off in Texas was about 86 percent; Florida, about 77 percent; Michigan, about 88 percent.
Some of this comes down to basic economics: The new test is administered only by computer, and typically costs $120. This shuts out many low-income people and those without access to modernized testing centers, like incarcerated students.
The new barriers are piled atop longstanding disadvantages in the adult learner population. According to the GED's 2013 data, testers were disproportionately of color, mostly blacks and Latinos. Most never got beyond 10th grade; on average, they are about 28 years old and have been out of school for a decade. Performance correlates directly with whether you’re white, male and younger.
Meanwhile, since GED’s generally don’t test actual knowledge that would be relevant to many adults who never finished high school (complex algebra might not be that handy for a low-income parent training to be a hospital aide), many adult-learning test-prep programs face a contradictory dual challenge of training students for a meaningless test, and trying to meaningfully educate them.
Critics say that the reformed test, like its K-12 counterparts, is narrow and tedious, featuring math problems that can stump even instructors and reading passages designed more for regurgitation than comprehension.