Kentucky inmates earned dramatically fewer GED diplomas since the test switched in January 2014 from a paper-based test to a more rigorous version taken on a computer, according to the state Department of Corrections.
In the 2013 fiscal year — the last full year the previous test was given — Kentucky prison and jail inmates earned 1,135 GED diplomas. In the 2015 fiscal year ending in June, 126 GED diplomas were awarded to Kentucky inmates.
The 89 percent decline means that fewer inmates have been awarded “educational good time,” which reduces prison sentences by 90 days for each inmate who earns a diploma.
The department declined a request for an interview. But in an email response to questions posed by WFPL, the department said that it had responded to recent changes to the test “with frustration.”
Students and teachers feel the program is too difficult and are dropping out at higher rates, the department said in a statement.
“Student and instructor morale has been negatively impacted by the decrease in high school equivalencies. Both students and instructors are motivated by awarding high school equivalency credentials.”
Corrections has had a drop in inmates taking the test since the new version rolled out in 2014, the department said in the email.
The department has run into issues with the additional training for instructors to teach the newer, more advanced test, which in part requires students to support writing with evidence instead of opinion, according to the department. Also, more staffing is needed to manage the program, but the department has had no additional funding allocations, it said.
The department also reported “infrastructure issues” with inmates taking practice tests, which are only available online. Inmates are not allowed to have access to the Internet.
The decline in GED diplomas in the corrections system nearly mirrors a drop in GED diplomas for the general public. Between 2013 and 2015, there were 83 percent fewer diplomas issued in Kentucky.
A more rigorous version of the GED was issued in 2014. The test’s proprietor, for-profit company Pearson, said the test is better geared toward preparing students for postsecondary education and the workforce.
Kentucky Adult Education officials attribute the drop in diplomas to already having graduated students considered to be “low-hanging fruit.” In other words, the remaining would-be GED test-takers are harder to graduate, especially with a more difficult test.
Jaqueline Korengel, assistant vice president of Kentucky Adult Education, said the same effect has taken place in the prison system.
“We started early on in hopes of making sure that this would be a smooth transition in Corrections, but it’s taken quite a bit longer than anticipated for testing to occur,” Korengel said. “We’re all in the same boat, we’re all gaining momentum.”
Korengel said the state has been working closely with prisons to solve problems as they come up. She added that some jails had found ways to allow Internet access to just allow GED test prep materials, and that Pearson was looking into rolling out an offline version of the materials.
State Sen. Mike Wilson, a Bowling Green Republican and chair of the Senate Education Committee, said he was “keeping an eye on” the decline.
“We want to make sure that we’re not somehow putting up roadblocks and excluding people from being able to get their GED without compromising, making sure that they are at those levels they need to be at in order to pass the test,” Wilson said.
State Rep. Derrick Graham, a Frankfort Democrat and chair of the House Education Committee, said it was too soon to tell if any legislative action was needed to address the decline in GEDs.
“We’ve got to look at the data, interpret the data and go forward. Being that the changes have just now come about, we just don’t really know,” Graham said.
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