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Number Taking and Earning G.E.D.'s Found To Drop Sharply in LastYear

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Washington--The number of high-school dropouts who received General Educational Development diplomas dropped sharply last year, according to a report issued here last week.

The total number taking the high-school equivalency test also declined, prompting "deep concern" among testing officials, who noted that high-school completion rates have risen only slightly in the past 10 years.

"If there are fewer people earning ged's, that means a significant portion of the workforce is not moving forward, not upgrading their education skills, and thus are not opening the doors a diploma can open,'' said Douglas R. Whitney, director of the ged Testing Service, which is sponsored by the American Council on Education.

The number of ged diplomas issued in the United States, its territories, and Canada declined from 435,318 in 1988 to 376,879 last year, a 13.4 percent drop, according to statistics from the ace In the U.S. and its territories alone, the number of diplomas declined from 421,016 to 364,287, also a 13.4 percent drop.

One simple explanation for the drop in diplomas is that fewer people took the test. In the United States and Canada, 682,728 people took the test, a 7 percent drop from 1988.

The decline in test-takers is a cause for concern, Mr. Whitney said, because "the number of non-high-school graduates in the United States is not declining."

Ged officials estimate there are 50 million to 52 million adults in the United States who have not graduated from high school.

Mr. Whitney cited a number of possible explanations for the decline in test-takers, including a shortage of ged classes, a lack of publicity about the test's availability, and a 20 percent cap on federal adult-education funds that may be used for ged instruction.

"We have not done as much as we could to let people know about the program," Mr. Whitney said.

Those who do take the ged face a more difficult test that now includes an essay and questions that measure higher-order thinking skills, both added in 1988. The report shows that only 68.4 percent of test-takers in 1989 earned a passing score, down from 72.4 percent in 1988 and 74.1 percent in 1987.

Last fall, the Education Department reported the results of a survey that showed that many high-school dropouts eventually complete their secondary education, either by returning to school or by earning an equivalency degree. (See Education Week, Sept. 27, 1989.)

Based on the "High School and Beyond" longitudinal study of 30,000 sophomores in 1980, researchers found that about half of the 17.3 percent who dropped out had, by 1986, completed their secondary-school education. Of those, two-thirds had earned an equivalency diploma such as the ged

The new study showed that the average age of ged-takers last year was 26.2 years. More than 31 percent of test-takers were 19 or younger, while 38 percent were between age 20 and 29; 18 percent were between 30 and 39; and 11 percent were more than 40 years old.

Copies of the "1989 ged Statistical Report" are available for $5 each prepaid from ged Testing Service Publications, One Dupont Circle, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.


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