Education

A new, more rigorous version of the GED test has led to a dramatic drop in the number of Kentuckians receiving a high school equivalency diploma.

Final numbers from the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education show there were 1,663 GED diplomas awarded in the 2015 fiscal year. That’s down from 7,083 — a 77 percent decline — in 2014, and a drop of 81 percent in 2013, the last full year the old version of the test was used.

The goal for fiscal year 2015 was 12,000 diplomas; Kentucky missed that mark by 86 percent.

“Well, we’ve got some work to do for sure,” said House Education Committee Chair Derrick Graham, a Democrat from Frankfort, after a meeting on Monday to review GED testing.

Adult education officials expect the numbers to increase slightly and then plateau.

Reecie Stagnolia, vice president for adult education in Kentucky, argues that the pipeline of would-be test takers is depleted because of the state’s push to graduate more students from high school and GED programs over the past decades.

“What we’re really left with are those most educationally and economically disadvantaged,” said Stagnolia.

Between 1990 and 2013, the number of working-age Kentuckians without a high school diploma or GED declined from 630,000 to 376,000, according to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.

The new version of the test is more challenging and geared toward preparing students for post-secondary education and the workplace. It requires higher level math, science, reading comprehension and computer skills.

The overhaul of the GED began in 2011, when for-profit testing company Pearson formed a partnership with the nonprofit American Council on Education, which has owned the GED since World War II.

The test was previously revised in 2002.

According to Pearson, the company changed the GED in response to employers, colleges and the military, who complained the test didn’t accurately reflect student preparedness.

Kentucky Postsecondary Education President Bob King supports the changes.

“It does not help an individual to put them through a program and give them at the end of it a certificate that is relatively or factually meaningless in the workplace,” King said.

But former Anderson County adult education instructor Jerry Shaw said the new test leaves a large portion of the population behind.

“There’s a disconnect between who Kentucky adult ed should be serving and who they’re targeting,” Shaw said. “They’re targeting the upper echelon. They’re targeting people they can get into post-secondary.”

Rep. Derrick Graham, Chairman of the House Education Committee, said he agrees that Kentucky needs a better-trained workforce, but he said he worries the new test is leaving some behind.

“I don’t want us to lesser the standards, but at the same time, we’ve got to find alternative methods by which to make people employable if they’re unable to attain a GED,” Graham said.

Although there are two other high school equivalency tests in the U.S., Kentucky only offers the GED. Officials said that’s partly because the other tests haven’t been proven effective, and partly because “GED” — a copyrighted term that is an acronym for General Education Development — is already written into Kentucky’s laws and regulations.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.