College & Workforce Readiness

More States Consider Awarding Diplomas for GED Passage

By Catherine Gewertz — November 23, 2015 2 min read
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The District of Columbia has decided to award high school diplomas to students who pass the GED. That move could prove to be the wave of the future.

Last week’s decision by the State Board of Education, which oversees K-12 schooling in Washington, D.C., sparked the kind of debate that ricochets around the policymaking world whenever changes are made to high school expectations. Boiled down, it sounds like this: One side argues that the change is necessary to create opportunity for more students. The other side argues that the change does students a disservice by lowering the bar.

The Washington Post’s report on the vote captures that debate. And you could be hearing it repeated in other states soon if preliminary information gathered by the GED Testing Service proves true.

GED Testing Service spokesman CT Turner said that the organization has been monitoring how states treat GED completion. Many states confer diplomas on those who pass the GED, although some grant lower-tier diplomas, instead of standard diplomas, for that accomplishment. Currently, 11 states—Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Oklahoma—grant some kind of high school diploma for GED passage. (In other states, the GED stands alone as a certificate of high school equivalency.)

When the District of Columbia joins that list, however, it will do so with a distinction: It is the first in that pack to base its decision on the rigor of the GED. The test was revamped in 2014 to reflect the ratcheted-up expectations of the Common Core State Standards adopted in 40-plus states. The D.C. Board of Education analyzed the test and based its decision in part on its view that the assessment was “normed so that the achievement level is at least as high as 40 percent of current high school graduates,” according to the resolution it approved at its Nov. 18 meeting.

Turner said that as the GED Testing Service monitors what states decide about diplomas, it has “heard that other states may do the same in the near future” as the District of Columbia just did. More details aren’t available yet, but this is worth watching. It will inevitably trigger more debate on what high school completion credentials really mean.

The GED Testing Service is trying to figure that out, too. Turner said that part of its research on the new GED involves tracking GED completers and comparing their outcomes with those of high school graduates, and with those of students who dropped out. Preliminary data, he said, suggest that “a higher percentage” of those who complete high school by passing the GED are entering career- and college-training programs than did so in previous years.

Interestingly, however, even as the D.C. board okayed the conferral of a diploma on GED-passers, it decided not to include those diplomas in its annual graduation-rate calculations. That could be because students who complete high school graduation requirements get a “high school diploma,” whereas those who pass the GED will earn a “state diploma.”

The board’s resolution is the first step in the district’s decision. The state superintendent of education still must issue regulations and hear public comment.

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