Fewer Texans are completing coursework to obtain GED diplomas, and area educators are blaming changes to the tests and time constraints for the decline.
“The assessments have increased in difficulty, thus making it more difficult to attain a GED,” said Jacqueline Shuman, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at the Santa Fe Independent School District.
GED is a trademark abbreviation for General Educational Development Tests, a battery of five exams designed by the American Council on Education to measure high school equivalency.
About 36,000 Texans met the GED diploma requirements in 2003, declining to 21,400 in 2016, according to the Texas Education Agency.
That decline coincides with changes made in 2014 to national requirements, said Frank Fernandez, an assistant professor at the University of Houston College of Education.
“The new GED test reflects broader national currents that focus on college and career readiness for the 21st-century economy,” Fernandez said.
Some of the other changes include a higher cost to take the test and updates to the tests that reflect common core trends, officials said.
Common core is a set of college- and career-ready standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics agreed upon by U.S. educators.
The tests now might also certify someone as college ready if they score high enough, Fernandez said.
The updates also computerized the test-taking process, said Marilu McGregor, education director at Lighthouse Christian Ministries.
“While it doesn’t require it, it essentially means they have to be computer savvy as well,” McGregor said.
Those taking the test must now also pass four separate sections of the test, when before the scores could be averaged, Fernandez said.
The four sections of the test are science, social studies, reasoning through language arts and mathematical reasoning.
The changes were an attempt to measure how prepared someone is for the workforce, Fernandez said.
But some local officials thought the changes hampered their efforts.
Because the exams are so difficult, College of the Mainland now offers an eight-week review for the GED tests, Shuman said.
That sort of time commitment is difficult for some prospective students to meet, Shuman said.
“Given that students would have to continue attending school to prepare for the exam, students are less likely to select that route,” Shuman said.
The GED course at Lighthouse Christian Ministries takes one or two semesters to complete, McGregor said.
A recent report by the Center for Public Policy Priorities calls for the Texas legislature to keep better track of data surrounding GED test-takers and to work with private businesses to see how many employees would benefit from completing the programs.
The study also calls on public officials to re-examine the decision to only offer the test on computers.