Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Making the Case for a Good-Enough Diploma - Pacific Standard

Making the Case for a Good-Enough Diploma - Pacific Standard:

Making the Case for a Good-Enough Diploma

Common Core and big business have combined to make the lot of the upwardly mobile high school dropout even more dire.

(Illustration: Craig Peterson)

Jennifer Neustedt is a caregiver—her job includes changing bedding, helping patients with eating, and monitoring their medicines—in an elder-housing facility in Bellingham, Washington. The 32-year-old, married with four children, works 40 hours a week for about $11 an hour.
Jose Rosado is a full-time metal fabricator in Cleveland, Ohio, putting together drop boxes that FedEx uses for package pick-ups. Twenty-seven, married and with a three-year-old son, he makes about $15 an hour. His wife doesn’t work—she’s been ill for a few years—and health-care costs have added to the family expenses.
Both are high school dropouts. Neustedt left school when she became pregnant at age 15, while Rosado dropped out in ninth grade because “I was into all sorts of things, and school wasn’t one of them.” Both need a high school diploma, or its equivalent, to move into the educational programs that will help them climb up the economic ladder.
If Neustedt were to put in two years of community college in a nursing program, she could triple her pay and move up in the booming health-care industry. Rosado wants to go to a vocational-tech training school to get certified in welding, which would open up his job options and perhaps triple his pay. It might even jumpstart his dream of owning an auto mechanic business.
Neustedt and Rosado both take tutoring classes to prepare for the GED, a high-school equivalency test. GED stands for General Educational Development (or, in less charitable quarters, the Good-Enough Diploma), and the test measures basic math, reading, writing, and history. Both Neustedt and Rosado put in 15 to 20 hours a week studying for the test, and they have been at it for more than a year.
These two are, by all estimations, reasonably intelligent adults, in stable family relationships, who work full-time and are working hard to get ahead—the kind of people the bootstrap puller-upper political crowd extols as examples of American hard work and determination. And yet neither Neustedt nor Rosado has passed the four-part GED. In fact, neither has passed even one of the parts.
They’re not alone. Fewer people passed the GED in 2014 than had in any other year since 1968, when the United States had 100 million fewer citizens. Why can’t they earn a good-enough diploma?


(Illustration: Pacific Standard)
(Illustration: Pacific Standard)
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.
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 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.
University of Chicago researchers found that, in the past few decades, the GED has consistently accounted for about 12 percent of the high school diplomas awarded in the U.S. But fewer than five percent of those passing the GED go on to earn a bachelor’s degree, compared to 27 percent of regular high school graduates. About 40 percent of GED test-passers, according to a 2011 study conducted for the GED Testing Service, do attend some post-secondary education classes—college, vocational school, or certification programs—but only about half spend more than Making the Case for a Good-Enough Diploma - Pacific Standard: