Report: Fewer Kentuckians getting a GED because of more rigorous standards

Fewer people in the state are getting their GED because of more rigorous standards and the move to a computer-based test, according to a report released Tuesday by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

The General Educational Development, or high school equivalency, exam was updated in 2014 to reflect the college- and career-ready standards for high school graduates. GED diploma attainment rates in Kentucky have since dropped approximately 77 percent between fiscal years 2014 and 2015, the report said. The drop was from 7,083 GED graduates in 2013-2014 to 1,663 in 2014-2015.

Ashley Spalding, a research and policy associate who authored the report, titled “Facing Challenges with the New GED Test in Kentucky,” said it gives some insight into what’s causing the decline and what the state might do to fix it.

Adapting to the new version of the test has been challenging nationwide because the GED test is now more rigorous, more expensive — $120 rather than $60 previously in Kentucky — and must be taken on a computer. Cost isn’t a problem for test-takers in Kentucky yet, Spalding said, because the state has temporarily mitigated the cost of the exam by providing vouchers for a third of the cost through federal Workforce Investment Act Funds. But costs could become a concern if vouchers run out, Spalding said.

The perception that the test is more difficult might be preventing people from trying to take it, she said.

Adult education providers across the state have been working to prepare students to pass the new GED test, Spalding said.

The drop in the number of GED diplomas earned in Kentucky’s prisons and jails was 83 percent between fiscal years 2014 and 2015. GED credential attainment can reduce recidivism — the return of inmates to jail or prison after release — the report said.

The report indicated that increases in educational attainment are associated with higher wages and benefit the state economy.

Since its development in 1942, the GED test has been updated four times, the report said. The fifth edition of the test, the 2014 version, went into effect Jan. 2, 2014. This test includes more significant changes than in the past, reflecting considerable shifts in educational standards and technology.

The report said Kentucky Adult Education needs to be more adequately funded to improve GED attainment. Those improvements include investments in data collection and reporting, professional development for instructors, increased marketing, studying alternative high school equivalency exams being adopted in other states, improving access for inmates, and establishing a more permanent source of test-subsidy funding.

Kentucky Adult Education’s budget for 2016 was $18.6 million, a 26 percent decline from 2008, Spalding said.

The agency is requesting an additional $1.2 million in 2017 and $2.4 million in 2018 to support the local adult education providers, she said.

“GED graduation numbers are extremely low for this past year, and even with an uptick in recent months, the state has a lot of work to do to meet its adult education goals,” the report said. “GED diploma attainment is a critical part of increasing educational attainment in Kentucky, which is important to individuals’ ability to make ends meet as well as improving the state’s economy and reducing rates of recidivism.”

In response, Brigitte Blom Ramsey, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, said Tuesday, “The good news is that Kentucky’s high school graduation rate has been increasing every year and is now at 87.5 percent.”

“Keeping kids in school and on track to graduate is the best strategy we have to decrease the need for the GED. Skills in reading, writing and mathematics are increasingly fundamental to success in both the workplace and college, so are skills in communication, problem-solving and critical thinking,” Ramsey said. “The challenge is to ensure that both the high school diploma and an equivalency exam indicate, to employers and postsecondary institutions alike, that an individual has the basic skills they need to take the next step.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears