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G.E.D. Officials Urge Policy Changes To Stem Decline in Number Taking Test

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Washington--States and the federal government should adopt a range of policies--including changing school-funding formulas and implementing family-literacy programs--to reverse a steep decline in the number of young adults pursuing General Educational Development certificates, officials from the American Council on Education said here last week.

Releasing the results of a survey of 1989 candidates for the high-school-diploma-equivalent certificate, the officials noted that the number of 18- to 24-year-olds who took the test declined by 26 percent since 1980, the last time the council conducted a similar survey.

Moreover, they said, less than 1.3 percent of the estimated 51 million adults over age 18 without high-school diplomas took the tests in 1989.

"There are a very large number of adults who could benefit from the program, but are not participating," said Douglas Whitney, director of the GED testing service at the ace

To enhance access to the program, Mr. Whitney suggested, all states should pay adult-education agencies for the services they provide, rather than for enrollments in classes, and should pay for the costs of textbooks and of taking the GED tests.

"It's asinine to assume someone between 18 and 21 is no longer eligible for state aid," said Gary Eyre, director of adult education for the Arizona Department of Education.

In addition, Mr. Whitney urged the creation of family-literacy programs that encourage parents without diplomas to attend schools alongside their children.

"The parent-child connection is really critical," he said. "Unless this dual set of needs is taken care of, the next generation will be looking at the same situation."

Educational Requirements

Created in 1942, the GED program offers adults who do not have diplomas an opportunity to earn a credential that is accepted for admission at most colleges and universities and is recognized as equivalent to a diploma by many employers.

Each year, about 700,000 adults--about half of whom are under the age of 25--take the GED test, which measures the outcomes of a four-year high-school program of study in writing skills, social studies, science, literature and the arts, and mathematics. In 1989, some 375,000 students passed the test and earned the credential.

The survey released last week found that, contrary to popular perceptions, an increasing number of adults took the test in order to meet requirements for postsecondary education. About 200,000 adults, or one-third of the test-takers, reported taking the test for that reason, compared with 29 percent in 1980. By contrast, the number who said they took the test for employment reasons or for "personal satisfaction" declined over the decade.

The number of test-takers who studied before taking the examination increased over the last decade, the survey found, and those who did study did so for longer periods of time. Perhaps as a result, said Mr. Eyre, many states report waiting lists for GED-preparation classes.

The survey also offered a glimpse into reasons students drop out of high school. The number of candidates who said they dropped out because they were not doing well in school dropped by half over the past decade, while the proportion who said they did so because of pregnancy or marriage tripled during that time.

Mr. Whitney noted that the increase in the number who cited pregnancy as a reason could be a good sign, since it shows an "increased recognition that further education is valuable."

In addition, Janet Baldwin, senior research associate at the GED testing service, noted that most of the candidates who gave pregnancy as a reason for dropping out were between ages 25 and 45. Many of the younger pregnant girls may be staying in school longer than in the past, she suggested.

The report issued last week, "GED Candidates: A Decade of Change," is the first in a series of seven reports based on the survey. Subscriptions to the series are available for $65 by contacting the GED Testing Service, American Council on Education, Publications Department PAT, 1 Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. 20036.

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