GED Passing Rates Rise, But Fewer Students Take Exam After Redesign

By Catherine Gewertz — February 21, 2018 3 min read
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UPDATED Passing rates on the GED have rebounded from a big drop after a major redesign of the high school equivalency exam in 2014, but the number of people taking it has dropped by more than half.

Here’s a quick way to see the trend lines before and after the 2014 debut of the new GED:

GED passing rates:

  • 2012: 69 percent
  • 2013: 76 percent
  • 2014: 59 percent
  • 2015: 79 percent
  • 2016: 80 percent
  • 2017: 79 percent

Number of students taking GED test:

  • 2012: 674,051
  • 2013: 816,213
  • 2014: 172,556
  • 2015: 244,569
  • 2016: 302,693
  • 2017: 300,540

On the new General Educational Development exam, a passing score is 145 out of 200. In 2017, average scores were 154 for science, 153 for social studies. 152 for reading/language arts, and 150 for math. (The GED originally set 150 as the passing score for the redesigned exam, but lowered it when it discovered that students who hit that mark were doing better in college than high school graduates.)

The company chalked up the increase in passing rates to a common testing phenomenon: students getting accustomed to the new test. When new tests are introduced, scores typically drop at first, and then rise after a few years.

It wasn’t just passing rates that dropped when the new, tougher GED replaced the old one, however. Fewer students took the test, too. Increased difficulty—and a higher price tag—could have been drivers behind that drop. Competition might have been part of the reason, too.

Two competing high school equivalency tests made their debut as the GED was revamped, and have been gaining ground with states and students. The Educational Testing Service introduced the High School Equivalency Test, or HiSET, and McGraw-Hill Education CTB created the Test Assessing Secondary Completion, or TASC.

Participation figures show that while the GED is gaining some ground after the big 2014 drop in participation, it hasn’t come close to the levels of participation it saw before the new version of the test. The GED Testing Service noted other possible reasons for the lower volume of test-takers: historically low unemployment and high school graduation rates.

UPDATED Patricia H. Tyler, the executive director of the National Council of State Directors of Adult Education, said that the addition of two new equivalency exams to the market accounted for a big share of the drop in GED participation. According to the Council’s figures, as of July 2017, 22 states were offering HiSET and 16 were offering TASC. The GED is also an option in most of those states. Forty states still offer the GED, according to the Council.

A different sort of data, released by the GED Testing Service this week, suggest that GED-passers are doing well in college, a key metric, since the reason for the redesign was to produce improved college readiness.

The GED Testing Service used data from the National Student Clearinghouse to track its test-takers. It found that 45 percent of those who passed the GED enrolled in a college certificate or degree program within three years. More than one-third signed up for such programs within a year of getting their GED credential.

Ninety percent of GED-passers persisted in college, meaning they signed up for another semester after completing the first. The college-persistence rate for those who passed the old GED test was 29 percent, Turner said.

The new data suggest that “GED graduates are in a much stronger position to compete with traditional high school graduates, especially after earning a certificate or degree in addition to a GED credential,” the GED Testing Service said in a statement.

The GED Testing Service set two college-readiness levels on the test, and is beginning to see colleges embrace those cut-off scores. About 200 two- or four-year institutions currently accept a “college-ready” score of 165 to let students skip placement tests, and enroll directly in credit-bearing courses. Some of those institutions are allowing students to get automatic course credit if they score at the “college-ready + credit” level of 175.

Image: Pablo

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.