Raising the Bar Presents Problems

January 2002 / Abell Reports / Education

New, more rigorous GED test poses another challenge for 1 in 5 Maryland residents who lack a high school education.

According to 2000 Census reports 772,306 adults in the affluent State of Maryland (or 21%) had not yet earned a high school diploma. Conversely, the State Department of Education promotes Maryland’s #1 national
ranking in recent years with 95% of 18-24 year olds completing high school – a statistic that includes alternative certifications like the GED. While Maryland receives high marks for young people completing high school, the number of Maryland residents without a high school diploma continues to increase. There have been an estimated 70,000 high school dropouts in Maryland since 1993, for example, and only 41,000 individuals of all ages passed the GED in that period. It is the role of Maryland’s under-funded and oft-neglected adult learning community to make up this mathematical difference.

The more significant of the two alternative routes to earning a traditional high school diploma in Maryland is the GED (General Educational Development) test. While the national pass rate for this high school equivalency assessment hovers near 70%, Maryland’s average pass rate is less than 54%. In Baltimore City, these figures are more dismal, with only 29% of test takers passing the GED in 2000; furthermore, this percentage has declined over the past three years. Now the bar is being raised: beginning in January 2002 a new, substantially more rigorous GED test with a performance orientation will be introduced that is anticipated to cause higher failure rates. Simultaneously, Maryland’s new high school subject assessments will be administered this year to all ninth grade students. Although these challenging subject tests are not yet graduation requirements, they are expected to be in the future, potentially increasing the dropout rate – an outcome the State Department of Education has acknowledged if not fully addressed.

As one in eight high school diplomas in Maryland is currently awarded on the basis of passing the GED, it is a critical component of the State’s educational system. In reality, adult education, including the GED and its sister alternative program, the External Diploma Program, receives little attention and even less funding from the State of Maryland.