DETROIT – A year after the GED exam underwent a massive overhaul — one that made it far more difficult but more in line with what’s expected of today’s high school grads — there has been a steep decline in people taking and passing the test.
Preliminary numbers from the GED Testing Service estimate that 90,000 people nationwide earned the General Educational Development diploma — a high school equivalency credential — in 2014. That’s down from 540,535 in 2013 and 401,388 in 2012.
Most education experts expected a decline because the number of people passing always drops when the GED introduces a new exam. But last year’s drop was worse than the last overhaul in 2002, when there was a 53 percent decline in people passing the test. Last year, the drop was 83 percent.
“The new test is a higher standard. It’s just going to take more time for people to adjust,” said Keenan Wade, manager of GED testing in Michigan’s Workforce Development Agency.
But some education experts are worried that the difficulty of the new test will discourage people from pursuing it, especially those who are taking it just to get a job. The new test is also more expensive.
“I’m concerned that some people will be scared away by how long it’s taking,” said Amy Amador of the Mercy Education Project in Detroit, which provides GED preparation.
Others see the tougher test as necessary to better prepare students for the future. By many accounts, the old exam had become too easy and wasn’t keeping up with the changing high school curriculum, particularly as more states adopt the Common Core State Standards, which spell out what students must know to be prepared for college or careers.
Jacklyn Perkins, 56, of Detroit, who’s taking GED classes in Detroit, said the changes are “good in a way. … We can go straight into college or a university.”
Part of the decline in those taking the test can be attributed to a surge in 2013, as people rushed to complete the old exam. GED officials also attribute the decline to an improved economy and the fact that in the past year 10 states dropped the GED as their equivalency exam.
The tougher test also has had an impact.
Diane Renaud, executive director of the St. Vincent and Sarah Fisher Center in Detroit, which provides GED testing and preparation, said she isn’t opposed to increasing the rigor but says the change happened too quickly and could hurt in the long run.
She said the new test could create “a group of people who are not employable, can’t go on to college, so they’re going to be stuck either relying on assistance or falling into [crime].”