College & Workforce Readiness

States Explore New Routes to High School Completion Without Equivalency Exams

By Catherine Gewertz — January 04, 2018 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Students who have been unable to earn their high school diplomas have long used an alternative track to finish high school: the equivalency test. Now a few states are opening additional channels to let older students complete high school.

Illinois is the latest example. Concerned that equivalency exams can hamper some young adults’ entry into the workforce, Illinois is developing a plan that would let them finish high school in other ways, such as passing community college courses or completing a credit-recovery program.

The state’s community college board is working on those plans, and hopes to offer alternatives to equivalency tests this fall, according to the State Journal-Register.

Currently, Illinois adults who haven’t earned their diplomas can complete high school by taking one of three equivalency exams: The still-dominant GED, or two newer equivalency exams, HiSET or TASC. They also must pass a test on the Illinois and U.S. constitutions.

Matt Berry, a spokesman for the community college board, said that the new policy could help reduce barriers for people who didn’t earn diplomas but want to enter the workforce. There are 1.2 million adults in Illinois who lack high school diplomas, he said. More than 14,000 people take equivalency tests each year.

“There’s a significant need for additional options in our state,” Berry said. “We need to look at how can we best serve this large population of adults. To fill the jobs that are out there, we’re going to need adults to enter our workforce.”

Current discussions at the community college board focus on four new routes to high school equivalency, Berry said. In addition to completing credit recovery programs or college courses, students could opt for a competency-based approach. That method would allow students taking adult-education courses to demonstrate their skills as part of that coursework, he said. Another route would allow diplomas earned in other countries to be recognized as equivalent to an Illinois diploma, he said.

The process of creating new equivalency pathways began in 2014, after Illinois officials noted a significant decline in the participation and passing rates on the GED, Berry said.

That trend played out nationally, too: pass rates and participation declined after the GED debuted a more rigorous (and more expensive) test aligned to the common-core standards in 2014. It was so rigorous, in fact, that the GED lowered the passing score in 2016.

The first phase of the conversation in Illinois focused on exploring alternatives to the GED, and led to the state adopting two newer equivalency exams as additional options for students: the HiSET and the TASC.

Directed by a state senate resolution, community college board officials assembled a task force last year to explore non-testing options for high school equivalency, Berry said. That group examined practices in other states, and led to recommendations that are now shaping discussions for an Illinois plan.

One of the states the task force studied is Wisconsin, which offers various routes for students who are 18 1/2 or older to earn high school equivalency. They may pass the GED and a civics test, or pass an expanded version of the test that also includes health, civic literacy, employability skills, and career awareness. Students taking one of those tests must also demonstrate that they’ve completed sufficient credits, but those can be high school or college credits.

Illinois is one of only a few states that have begun to explore high school equivalency options beyond the GED, HiSET and TASC exams. Some states have also added new options for regular diplomas for adults.

Wisconsin allows students to earn regular diplomas through demonstrations of competency. Iowa passed a law last year that lets adults earn equivalency by bundling high school and college credits together, according to the National Skills Coalition.

Minnesota created a program in 2014 that allows adults to earn regular diplomas through competency-based adult-education programs.

Get High School & Beyond posts delivered to your inbox as soon as they’re published. Sign up here. Also, for news and analysis of issues that shape adolescents’ preparation for work and higher education.

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

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness Opinion Can College-Going Be Less Risky Without Being 'Free'?
Rick Hess speaks with Peter Samuelson, president of Ardeo Education Solutions, about Ardeo's approach to make paying for college less risky.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion What Will It Take to Get High School Students Back on Track?
Three proven strategies can support high school graduation and postsecondary success—during and after the pandemic.
Robert Balfanz
5 min read
Conceptual illustration of students making choices based on guidance.
Viktoria Kurpas/iStock
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion An Economist Explains How to Make College Pay
Rick Hess speaks with Beth Akers about practical advice regarding how to choose a college, what to study, and how to pay for it.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness What the Research Says College Enrollment Dip Hits Students of Color the Hardest
The pandemic led to a precipitous decline in enrollment for two-year schools, while four-year colleges and universities held steady.
3 min read
Conceptual image of blocks moving forward, and one moving backward.