Pass rates plummet on Core-aligned GED

The new Common Core-aligned GED (General Education Diploma) test is much harder — and more expensive, reports Daniel McGraw on Cleveland Scene. Far fewer high school dropouts have taken the test this year and nearly 500,000 fewer have passed the GED.

In 2012, 401,388 people earned a GED. That went up to 540,000 people in 2013, with many rushing to take the test before it changed. This year, only 55,000 have passed.

Tutor works with GED student at Seeds of Literacy

Tutor works with GED student at Seeds of Literacy

The Seeds of Literacy, a Cleveland nonprofit, helped 131 students pass in the past two years. This year, only two have earned a GED.

At Cleveland’s Project Learn, 29-year-old Derwin Williams has studied all year for the GED, but isn’t ready to take it, reports McGraw. Williams wants to train as a roofer or drywall hanger.

“We are freezing out a large portion of those who would have had a good chance of passing before,” said Robert Bivins, program director of Education at Work at Project Learn.

Like Williams, most GED students want to impress employers or qualify for job training. They’re not aiming at a bachelor’s degree. Yet the Core-aligned exam measures college readiness.

A question from a sample test asks:

Cilia are very thin, hair-like projections from cells. They are 2.0 x 10-4. What is the maximum number of cilia that would fit side by side — without overlapping — across a microscope slide that is 25 millimeters wide?

a. 8.0 x 10-6

b. 1.25 x 10-3

c. 8.0 x 102

d. 1.25 x 105

Is that answerable as written? (Not by me.)

The old GED exam required one personal essay with a question such as: “Who is someone you think is successful and why?” It was graded on sentence structure and grammar.

Now there are two essays evaluated on reasoning.

(A question) asks the tester to read two essays on daylight saving time — one in favor, one against — and then write an essay about which one is better and why.

. . . Another asks a test taker whether a school’s decision to expel a student refusing to salute the flag or saying the Pledge of Allegiance is covered by the freedom of religion or freedom of speech, and how Thomas Jefferson’s writing fits into the question at hand. The essay will be judged, in part, on “your own knowledge of the enduring issue and the circumstances surrounding the case to support your analysis.”

Few are even trying to pass the new GED, says John Eric Humphries, co-author of The Myth of Achievement Tests. “We use the same test” for “a job parking cars as we do for getting into college,” he says.

Some states offer an alternative exam, reports McGraw. Ohio is considering alternatives.

College aid for dropouts?

High school dropouts with college-ready skills lost access to federal student aid in 2012. Now there’s bipartisan support for restoring “ability to benefit” aid for people seeking job skills. Most employers have ceded job training to community and for-profit colleges. There are few non-college paths to a skilled or semi-skilled jobs.

In a Washington Post story on “disconnected” youth — not working or in school — a mentor advises an unemployed parolee who left high school at 14 to take a U.S. history class that could earn him college credits. Doesn’t this guy, who’s trying support a nine-year-old son, need job skills?

Who graduates from college?

Of 100 students from four different income groups who began a two-year or four-year college in 2002, who earned a degree by 2008? asks the Washington Post. (Click the link to check out the nice graphics.) Surprisingly few.

In six years, only 30 students completed a bachelor’s degree. That includes 12 students of 25 from the top quartile in family income ($92,000+) and four of 25 from the bottom quartile (less than $32,000). Another 14 students — two from the top quartile and five from the bottom quartile — earned an associate degree or certificate.

Three high-income students and seven low-income students are among the 21 dropouts. Thirty-five students from all income groups were still trying to complete a degree.

Only 56 percent of the highest-income students, 44 percent of the upper-middle group, 40 percent of lower-middle incomes and 36 percent of the lowest-income students had earned a credential of any kind in six years.

I’m not surprised that students from low-income (and usually poorly educated families) have trouble earning a degree. I’m shocked that middle- and upper-middle-class families get only half their kids through college in six years. Giving full-time students an extra two years to complete a bachelor’s degree raises completion rates by less than 5 percent, according to Complete College America’s Time is the Enemy.

More time, more dropouts

Fifteen Detroit schools lengthened the school day by 24 minutes and the year by 35 days, writes Sarah Butrymowicz on the Hechinger Report. The state took over the failing schools in 2012.

Southeastern High School of Technology and Law lost 400 students — half its enrollment — in the last two years. About half the missing students transferred, estimates Jeff Maxwell, who recently resigned as principal. The other half dropped out.

“A year-round school with a sound program is a great idea,” said Chris Savage, community activist and author of the Eclectablog. “They need to get their program in order.”

The state’s Education Achievement Authority is trying new approaches.

Grade levels were dropped as teachers were encouraged to divide students strategically and to let them collaborate in small groups. All students use an online curriculum to go through lessons at their own pace.

. . . Computer usage starts with an hour a day in kindergarten, but high schoolers at Southeastern might spend most of the day on netbooks. This means that high school teachers are responsible for monitoring students’ progress and meeting with them one-on-one, rather doing whole-class lectures.

In a daily advising session devoted to social and emotional learning, students discuss topics such as “bullying, fighting and skin color,” writes Butrymowicz.


Students at Southeastern High School of Technology and Law in Detroit discuss their self-esteem during the daily advisory period. The school is using its expanded learning time to address social and emotional issues through group discussions. (Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz)

Students at Detroit’s Southeastern High discuss their self-esteem during the daily advisory period. (Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz)

In the 2012-13 school year, the Education Achievement Authority claimed that 64 percent of students achieved at least a year’s worth of growth in reading and 68 percent did so in math on internal assessments.

But the students’ state standardized test scores told a different story, concluded Thomas Pedroni, an associate professor at Wayne State. He found that 58.5 percent of students showed no reading progress from 2012 to 2013, and 78.3 percent made no gains in math. More than four in five students who scored proficient in math in 2012 did worse in 2013.

Malik Canty, 17, stuck with Southeastern.  He told Butrymowicz he’d read only one book on his own, Percy Jackson and the Titans Curse, in his first 12 years of public school. By graduation this month, he’ll be up to two.

He plans to go on to community college.  Eventually, he’d like to study medicine at the University of Michigan.

Feds will fund adult ed, job training mix

The new workforce bill will make it easier for community colleges to teach basic skills and job skills at the same time. Federal rules have required high school dropouts to catch up academically before starting job training.

CC defaults soar, despite low debt

Default rates are high for community college students, even though tuition is low and most loans are small. That’s because many borrowers don’t complete a degree — and some who do have low earnings.

Childhood’s ‘long shadow’

Only 4 percent of low-income Baltimore children had earned a college degree by age 28, concludes a Johns Hopkins study that followed 790 first graders for 22 years. Forty-five percent of higher-income children went on to earn a degree.

“A family’s resources and the doors they open cast a long shadow over children’s life trajectories,” Johns Hopkins sociologist Karl Alexander says The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth and the Transition to Adulthood.

White men from low-income backgrounds were less likely to attend college, but more likely to find well-paying blue-collar jobs. At age 28, 45 percent were working in construction trades and industrial crafts, compared with 15 percent of black men from similar backgrounds.

At age 18, 89 percent of white dropouts were working compared with 40 percent of black drop-outs.

White women from low-income backgrounds were much more likely than black women to be in stable family unions with a working spouse or partner.

At age 28, 49 percent of black men and 41 percent of white men from low-income backgrounds had a criminal conviction. But whites were much more likely to be working because of their stronger social networks, the study found.

Is college worth it for everyone?

Is college worth it for everyone? The college premium is increasing, but only for those who earn a degree. And not every degree is a ticket on the gravy train.

Why teens drop out — and come back

Abusive or absent parents, unsafe schools, gangs, homelessness and teen pregnancy make school a low priority for some high school students, concludes a GradNation report, Don’t Call Them Dropouts. Many of the “interrupted-enrollment students” interviewed in 16 cities said “nobody cared” if they stayed in school.

A “caring connection” with an adult who can help with problem solving could keep many of these teens on track, the report said. It also recommended “fewer exit ramps” from school and easier re-entry.

NAEP: 38% of 12th-graders are ready for college

Thirty-eight percent of 12th-graders read well enough for college coursework and 39 percent have the necessary math skills, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Students who score “proficient” in reading and between “basic” and “proficient” in math are prepared to pass college courses, analysts said. It wasn’t possible to judge career readiness.

High school graduation rates are up, but many students start college in remedial courses. Dropout rates are high for poorly prepared students.

“A lot of times we’re getting kids to graduate by asking less of them, not more of them,” says David Conley, director of the Center for Educational Policy Research at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

“The question we have to ask ourselves is, how is it that we have probably twice that number of kids taking college-type prep courses, and yet only half of them are getting to the knowledge level they need? What’s going on in courses that are supposed to prepare kids for college?” Professor Conley asks.

NAEP is optimistic compared to ACT, which estimates that only about a quarter of ACT test-takers are prepared to succeed in college.