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N.J. Ponders Drawing Line Between Diplomas, GED

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In a standards-related development, the New Jersey Department of Education has proposed to stop issuing high school diplomas to those who pass only the General Educational Development test.

The move would dovetail with changes to the state code for high school graduation requirements and would draw a distinction between those who have met New Jersey's high school curriculum standards and those who haven't, the state says.

Under a plan that department officials pitched to the state school board this month, the state would recognize the GED only as a "certificate," not a "diploma," starting in 2001.

"We don't want the two to be confused," said Barbara Anderson, the assistant commissioner for the education department's division of student services. "We want to be able to identify those students who have met our core curriculum standards."

The GED is a national test taken by adults who did not complete their high school education. Passing the test confers a widely recognized high-school-equivalency credential. Half a million people earn the credential each year. In New Jersey, more than 9,000 people received the credential in 1996.

New Jersey would not be the first state to draw a line between a high school diploma and the GED. At least four other states already do so. But New Jersey's proposal brings home the implications of the academic-standards movement in the GED field.

Judith Winn, the president of Bergen Community College in Paramus, N.J., expressed concern about the impact on adults who depend on the GED as a credential. About 5 percent of the 1,500 students who attend the college have GED diplomas.

Ms. Winn said that before the GED is devalued in New Jersey, an effort should be made "to improve the GED program and testing."

"If it doesn't incorporate the standards, we may need to look at what needs to happen so it would," she added.

'What's in a Name?'

Joan Auchter, the executive director of GED testing for the American Council on Education, said that her organization is making an effort to align the next generation of tests with national education standards. The council, a Washington-based umbrella group of higher education organizations, administers the GED program nationwide.

She expressed little dismay at the New Jersey proposal.

Oregon and Utah, she pointed out, already call the GED credential a certificate. Washington state and Wisconsin also recognize the GED as a certificate.

Ms. Auchter said that what the GED is called is not very important. "Colleges and employers accept it for what it is--skills based on the core curriculum and academic standards of a high school program of study," she said.

Annette Franulovich, the administrative specialist with the GED program for Oregon's office of community college services, agreed. "What's in a name?" she asked.

Yet, she said, although Oregon has long referred to the GED as a certificate, state lawmakers stressed the need for such a distinction in a bill passed last year.

New Jersey currently requires a higher score on the GED for a diploma than many other states do. Even so, the GED program does not reflect New Jersey's academic standards, adopted in May 1996, nor does it include a high school proficiency test now required for Garden State graduates, Ms. Anderson said.

Adults can now earn a high school diploma in New Jersey, however, by meeting local graduation requirements and passing the high school proficiency test, which was implemented in 1993, said Ellen Schechter, the director of the division of academic and career standards for the department of education. New Jersey has "adult high schools" for people who choose this route. While the proposal does not mention this option, it is likely that it will stay in place, Ms. Schechter said. The proposed code changes do recommend the implementation of a new high school proficiency test.

Both Oregon and Utah issue adult high school diplomas that differ from the GED certificates in those states.

The subject areas for the adult diploma are broader than those covered by the GED, said Shauna South, an adult education specialist for the Utah Office of Education. Ms. South said that her state is doing more work to align state standards with its adult high school diploma than with the national GED.

The New Jersey board of education will hold public hearings before it makes a final decision on the proposal. No decision is likely until December.

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