Along with years of dedication, studying and preparation, certain careers require minimum passing scores on tests necessary to be successful in that profession. These exams are often labeled “high stakes tests” due to their “all or nothing nature”: if you don’t pass the test, you can’t get the job you had dreamed of. Lawyers have to pass the bar exam. Accountants have to take the Series 7. There are high stakes tests to become a career diplomat at the State Department. Special forces branches within the military have tests. Elite colleges and universities have minimum scores for both undergraduate and graduate admissions based upon the SAT and GMAT exams. None of these exams are easy, but that is the point. Professionals within the industry know what specific domain knowledge it will take in order to be successful in that field. If you can’t pass the test, it might not be the best match for your career.
The General Educational Development test, or GED, is a test that has been around for decades. It has typically been utilized by adult learners that did not graduate from high school as an alternative path to earning a “high school equivalency” (HSE) credential. According to the United States Department of Labor, almost 90% of all jobs in the US require either a high school diploma or HSE credential. The same requirement holds true for admissions into most post-secondary institutions and even the military. As the “first rung” necessary to gain access to a broad range of career and education options, the GED was never designed to be a “high stakes test”, preventing people from gaining access to entry level jobs or higher education.
In 2014, the GED test changed – and the results are raising some eyebrows. In a January 6th interview on NPR with Randy Trask, CEO of GED Testing Service, prior to 2014, about 500,000 adults per year passed the GED.1 According to data obtained by reporter Daniel McGraw with the Cleveland Scene, in 2014 there were only 55,000 people nationwide who passed the new GED, representing a 90% decline.2
The new GED was designed to align with the academically more rigorous Common Core State Standards, which are being implemented across the K-12 system in 43 states across the country.
As Lecester Johnson, CEO of Washington, DC based charter school points out in the same NPR interview, “…we didn’t shore up the system where adults are taking classes to study for that exam”. In fact, Daniel McGraw’s article references one student, Derwin Williams, who has been studying for 11 months and is still not registering passing scores on the practice tests. The stakes couldn’t be higher for Derwin, who is unemployed and hoping to enter the construction trade. He needs to pass the GED to be accepted in the vocational technical classes that would train him to be a roofer or dry wall hanger.
At Penn Foster, we offer an alternative solution to the GED and other equivalency programs for people that did not complete their High School education in the traditional timeframe or format. One of our fastest growing and most successful delivery formats is our high school completion program delivered in a blended learning environment. We partner with organizations that focus on opportunity youth such as the Job Corp or YouthBuild. We also partner with career and technical colleges that offer the high school completion embedded in their campus setting.
Going back to college online or in a blended learning environment as an adult to finish a degree has become fairly commonplace. Often people do not realize that the same option exists for people that did not graduate from high school. Unlike learning how to pass a single, high stakes test such as the GED, Penn Foster high school graduates learn skills and competencies that will serve them well in life, including:
- Goal setting, long range planning and follow through: Our students set a date as a graduation goal based upon their life circumstances and then follow a schedule get there. They make adjustments along their journey as situations and circumstances change
- Introspection and skills assessment: Within the 21.5 credit curriculum necessary to graduate from Penn Foster High School, 5 credits are allocated to elective classes where students can choose from dozens of career aligned or early college concentrations , easing the transition if they matriculate to college or a career technical training program
- Grit, perseverance and confidence: Most important of all, our students will have learned that when life knocks you down, you don’t quit. Penn Foster was proud to have over 20,000 graduates in 2014. On average, after submitting transcripts to receive credit for the prior high school course work they did complete, our graduates had been in our program for about a year and a half. If they failed a particular exam or class along the way, they were able to get the academic support they needed to pass on a 2nd or 3rd try. Now they have the confidence that they can overcome future challenges that life will inevitably present them
At Penn Foster, we believe the goal of education is to prepare students for success in life – not just how to take a test. In 2015, we will be celebrating 125 years as a distance learning institution. We look forward to working with the 60,000 students currently enrolled in our high school program, either online or through our blended learning partners, helping them earn their high school diploma so they can move on and achieve their dreams in life.Resources: Photo1; Photo2; (1) Is the New GED Test an Educational Improvement or Setback? (2) Nearly 500,000 Fewer Americans Will Pass the GED in 2014 After a Major Overhaul to the Test. Why? And Who's Left Behind?