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The New and Unimproved Version of the GED

An early look at a Pacific Standard story that's currently only available to subscribers.
(Illustration: Pacific Standard)

(Illustration: Pacific Standard)

The GED has always measured basic academic proficiency, but it also served as a proxy for the test-taker’s determination to study and ultimately move up economically. The new version of the test has lessened the importance of that resolve, and seems to be discouraging people from even trying. The focus of the new test also questions a tacit, if real, goal for many taking the GED: It’s a tool for moving up a few rungs on the vocational ladder, not a launching pad for those who want to jump onto the university escalator. Daniel J. McGraw reports on how Common Core and big business have combined to make the lot of the upwardly mobile high school dropout even more dire.

McGraw's Pacific Standard feature story is currently available to subscribers and will be posted online on Monday, November 15. Until then, an excerpt:

A retooled GED rolled out in January 2014, and the new test is harder than the old one. A lot harder. That’s intentional: The people behind the test insist that a harder test is good for worker productivity and gives the GED more value—arguments that echo those made for the Common Core State Standards Initiative and its mission to improve American classroom education through consistent curricula and ample standardized testing.

Common Core, in fact, is a big reason the current GED is so much harder. States—and keep in mind that states decide when and how to adopt Common Core, not the federal government—required the new test to adhere to Common Core standards. Rather than assessing skills learned by rote, including basic math, reading, and writing skills, Common Core means to emphasize analytical learning—“how” and “why” and not just “what.” And the new GED reflects that intention.

The content change in the new test—more math, algebra-level and above (the old test was one-fourth advanced math; the new test is one-half ), essays graded on analysis and not grammar, tough chemistry equations—is the biggest factor in the historic drop-off, according to those who tutor prospective test-takers.

And while those who oversaw this test change insist that the numbers will go up as tutors and test-takers get to know the new GED, right now the new test is failing a large number of people who need a second chance to get ahead. This remains a significant population to draw from: According to the Department of Education, while dropout rates among all demographic groups have been falling for years, some seven percent of current 16- to 24-year-olds are high school dropouts.


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