By C.N. Staff Writer
For many residents in the District of Columbia, the GED certificate has offered a promise of a better life, a path from poverty into college or a more promising career. There are approximately 30 million adults in the U.S. without a high school diploma. And almost 700,000 of them take the test each year. This year, the test changed in January and now the seven-hour GED exam was revamped to make the document more comparable to a high school diploma. Every 10 years, the GED program changes to keep up with the standards of 12th grade high school students.
Executive Director of Community College Preparatory Academy, Connie Spinner, said “The test has been changed to keep up with the changing educational times.” Spinner runs an adult public charter school in the Anacostia neighborhood of D.C. she says she warned her students in the fall that if they had not completed the test they should do so before January 2014. “Now it is just simply harder,” she said. Administrators of the test have said the change was necessary to keep up with the growing technological age.
Employers are requiring perspective workers to be more tech savvy. Students now have to take the test on a computer rather than using pen and paper. The math section can now include questions on quadratic equations and factoring polynomials. The social studies and science sections put greater stress on analytical thinking and less on mere reading comprehension.
According to the Post, at present, about 500 District residents a year get their GED. The number of District residents age 18 and older who lack a high school diploma or equivalent is more than 60,000. That population makes up the core of the District’s long-term jobless and underemployed.
For years, the GED test was dismissively called the ‘Good Enough Diploma’ because passing the test was so much easier than earning a traditional high school diploma. Now it’s being aligned with more rigorous college and career readiness standards and will be far more difficult. In a 2011 study, the GED Testing Service found that within six years of earning a GED, about 40 percent of GED recipients enroll in college — but most drop out within a year. Only about 1 percent earns a bachelor’s degree. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, about 40 percent of GED recipients earned the certificate in part because it was easier than finishing high school. And increased access to the GED has increased dropout rates. The GED Option Program places test preparation centers inside high schools.
First launched in 1942, the test was used as a boost to the veterans whose education was interrupted when the U.S. joined World War II. The test allowed thousands of service members to get a credential they could use to go on to college. Since then, its reach has grown dramatically. By 1958, there were more civilians taking the test than veterans. Today, it’s known to some as ‘America’s Largest High School.’ Thanks to government incentives, the test has become a ticket to some federal jobs programs, college grants, and, for prisoners, a chance to get out of jail a little sooner. It also has given many undocumented immigrants a better shot at staying in the U.S.
Critics of the test believe that making the GED harder will not address the real problem — it still will not capture many of the skills that matter in high school and in life. Most GED preparation programs focus on test preparation, with the average student studying only 30 hours before taking the exam. It is life skills that matter, not certificates. District resident Kevauhn Lee, 25, said, “I began studying for the test last summer and I wish I had of taken it by December. I really need it, but now I am afraid that I may not pass.”