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State saw far fewer GED grads in 2014

State saw far fewer GED grads in 2014

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The number of Wisconsinites who received a high school equivalency certification plummeted by 92 percent this year, in part due to more rigorous standards and an increase in testing fees.

Officials say the switch to a new General Education Development test this year was necessary to better prepare graduates for today’s workforce, and that there already are signs that the downward trend in graduates is beginning to reverse.

As the year comes to a close, only 912 people have graduated Wisconsin’s GED program, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. That’s a dramatic decline from 2013, when 11,378 people got their GEDs.

And Wisconsin wasn’t alone. Many other states saw a similar drop this year in the number of people seeking high school equivalency degrees, according to GED Testing Service, which contracts with states to provide the course.

The company implemented a new test this year that focuses more on technology skills, and attempts to better gauge a graduate’s preparedness for college and a career. The new test is only administered on computers, and costs more than in previous years for most students.

The new stack of tests cost $135 for the general public, whereas it previously cost as little as $75 in some parts of the state. Prices vary because some communities are able to underwrite much of the cost through grants or donations.

“I think we can attribute (the decline in 2014 graduates) to three things,” said Beth Lewis, who oversees the General Education Development program for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. “One is how many people we finished up in 2013. We really pushed to clean everyone up the previous year. The second is that people have to study a bit more. And the third is the cost.”

She noted that Wisconsin graduated 7,200 people from the GED program in 2012, and that the increase to 11,378 graduates in 2013 was part of a push to get people through the program before the new 2014 requirements were implemented.

But any way you slice it, there was a major decline in GED participants this year, with less than 1,000 people graduating the program.

However, a GED Testing Services spokesman noted that 42 percent of Wisconsin’s graduates this year came in the last three months, a spike in volume that he says is partially due to instructors becoming more comfortable with the course.

“We always see a large drop when we release a new test series,” said GED Testing Service spokesman CT Turner.

He said media reports prior to this year’s implementation of the new requirements may have unnecessarily scared prospective GED candidates into believing the test is now significantly harder.

It’s true that the test now requires basic computer skills and includes some headier subject matter, Turner said. But much of the more difficult content is part of a new section that measures a student’s college and career readiness, and a test taker’s score on that portion does not determine whether they get their GED certification.

The computerized test gives graduates immediate post-test feedback to help guide their future studies, something the old paper and pencil test failed to do, Turner said.

The GED was created by the American Council on Education in the 1940s at the request of the military as a means to allow veterans without a high school degree an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge.

In March 2011, the Council’s GED Testing Service partnered with Pearson VUE, a private computer-based testing firm, to provide a fifth revision of the test, which was implemented nationwide in January 2014.

In 1973, only 28 percent of jobs required a college degree or professional certification, according to GED Testing Service. Nowadays, it’s 62 percent of jobs.

The new test, which focuses more on college and career readiness, replaces a test that was first implemented in 2002. It also includes a focus on technology skills, which education officials say are crucial in today’s jobs market.

Aside from the lower graduation rate among the general population, the changeover has caused problems for some county jails that offer GED programs to inmates.

“The laptops we have in jail don’t meet the technical requirements needed,” said Sauk County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Lewis Lange. “(The inmates) also need a credit card to pay.”

As a result, the county’s jail did not graduate any inmates from the GED program this year, whereas it typically graduates around 15 prisoners annually.

Lange said Madison Area Technical College, which administers the course to inmates in Sauk County and other regional jails, is working on a solution to the technological problems. But he said it may be necessary to find ways to supplement some of the $135 cost for inmates if the county wants them to continue getting their GEDs.

About 75 percent of the 743,000 people who completed the GED course in 2013 met the passing standard.

This year, the national pass rate dropped to about 60 percent. Wisconsin residents beat that with a pass rate of 65 percent. Wisconsin inmates passed at a rate of 73 percent, which Lewis said is likely due to jails and prisons being more selective in terms of who is authorized to take the test.

According to the U.S. Census, 12 percent of the population over age 25 has less than high school completion. Thirty-one percent have completed high school.

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