Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Those taking GED to count as dropouts

This is a positive move since most people who take the GED do so because they've dropped out. -Angela

Sun, Jun. 18, 2006

Those taking GED to count as dropouts
The new policy is likely to increase the official dropout rate and could
result in lower rankings for many schools in Texas


Texas has broadened its definition of high school dropouts to include
students who take the GED and those who can't pass the TAKS exit exam.

The change will take effect when the dropout rate for the Class of 2006 is
calculated. It is part of the Texas Education Agency's effort to pressure
school districts into keeping more students in the classroom and seeing to
it that they succeed. The change is likely to increase the state's high
school dropout rate and could pull down school ratings.

The rule change puts Texas in line with federal standards for counting
dropouts, and it also recognizes the differences in the success of high
school graduates and those who obtain a General Educational Development

"Getting a GED is not the same as getting a diploma, and we know that
because outcomes for students are dramatically different," said Daria Hall,
a senior policy analyst for Education Trust of Washington, D.C., an
independent nonprofit organization concerned with improving education.

"That's why it's important to hold schools accountable for making sure that
students get a regular diploma," Hall said.

Test pressure

In recent years, a considerable number of Texas teens have sought a GED
rather than a high school diploma. Of those taking the GED between 2000 and
2004, 144,337 -- about 40 percent -- were teens, according to the latest
data available from the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C.,
which administers the exams.

State officials acknowledge that in recent years, as standardized tests have
become more difficult, there have been reports of school officials
encouraging students to drop out rather than drag down test scores. The new
rules are meant to deter this.

Students who quit high school, can't pass the TAKS or opt for a GED will all
be considered dropouts, or "non-completers." To earn an "acceptable" rating
from the state, 75 percent of a district's or a school's students must
complete high school.

"There's no question that there's more pressure on the schools," said Chuck
Boyd, a secondary schools management director in the Fort Worth district.
"I'm not trying to diminish the good qualities of the GED, but it's more
important for students to get their diplomas. We're working very hard with
our students to get that idea across."

Critics of the state's approach say it places too much emphasis on passing
the TAKS rather than on overall performance and gives struggling students
little incentive to stay in school.

"There's going to be more and more kids dropping out because they know they
can't pass the test," said Bob Kimball, a professor at the University of
Houston-Clear Lake. The former Houston school district administrator made
national headlines in 2003 by saying that the district under-reported its

David Holland, director of accountability and testing for the Birdville
district, notes that the TAKS exit exam, which is first given in the 11th
grade, trumps four years of class work.

"If I'm a student and in four years I complete all of my credits, and the
only thing keeping me from graduating is passing the TAKS, and I don't pass
it over the summer, then in the following fall I'll be counted as a
non-completer because I'm not enrolled," Holland said.

In May, the Texas Education Agency reported that 89 percent of seniors in
the state, or 201,491, have passed all portions of the TAKS exit exam.

"About 25,000 students still need to pass it," said DeEtta Culbertson, a TEA

Graduating seniors who don't pass the test by August will be counted as
dropouts under the 2007 state ratings. The state rates schools and districts
as exemplary, recognized, acceptable or unacceptable.

Schools can also boost their student completion rates by factoring in
students who return to school for a fifth year, even if they take only a
single class, state officials said.

GED pros and cons

The GED provides a way for people who didn't graduate from high school to
get into college or get a better-paying job, according to the American
Council on Education.

For years, passing the battery of tests has been considered the equivalent
of earning a high school diploma. It consists of 7 1/2 hours of exams on
subjects such as mathematics, science, social studies, writing, and
interpreting literature and the arts.

During trial runs, six out of 10 high school seniors could not pass the GED
exams, according to the council. But some local teens said the GED program
is less demanding than high school.

"It's pretty easy," said Tiffany Lundgren, 17, who dropped out of Richland
High School in the Birdville district and earned a GED certificate. "You can
finish it in four to five weeks if you try. It's basically just practice

But the same problems that limited a student's success in high school don't
just go away because they enter a GED program.

"There are barriers with child care, transportation, illness in their
families or even their own illness," said Sofia Zamarripa, an Adult Basic
Education supervisor in the Fort Worth school district.

On average, just 35 percent of students who enter Arlington's GED program
receive a certificate, according to district data.

Sometimes students' reading levels are too low for the test, and they get
frustrated and quit, said John DeMore, principal of Venture High, one of
Arlington's alternative high schools.

"To keep kids in this class, they have to really believe that the teacher
cares about them and that they are getting a credit that is useful so they
can go to work or go to a junior college," DeMore said.

The odds for success are stacked against students who earn a GED.

Just 1 percent of GED recipients will go on to earn bachelor's degrees, and
about 2 percent will earn associate's degrees, said Hall, the senior policy
analyst for Education Trust.

By contrast, about 36 percent of high school graduates go on to earn
bachelor's degrees and 6 percent will earn an associate's degree, Hall said.

High school graduates will earn more money than dropouts. And college
graduates are far more likely to earn more money over their lifetimes than
those who go no further than high school.

"I hope we never hold a GED in as much regard as a high school diploma,
which should have more weight and be more valuable," said state Sen.
Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, who has served on state and national education
committees. "In today's society, you can't get a job and raise a family, or
participate in the business world, without it."

Defining a dropout

In Texas school ratings, dropouts refer to seventh- and eighth-graders who
don't return to school, a figure that is typically less than 1 percent and
has little impact on ratings.

Completers are students who join a freshman class and graduate four to five
years later.

In 2004, the Texas Education Agency reported that 84.6 percent of seniors
graduated and 3.9 percent -- equal to 9,627 students -- dropped out. Other
students received GEDs or continued high school for a fifth year.

If GED students are added in, the figures grow to 8.1 percent, or 19,995
dropouts. Starting in 2007, students who drop out and take their GEDs will
be considered dropouts.

Some studies cite even higher dropout numbers. The Alliance for Excellent
Education in Washington, D.C., estimates that more than 124,000 students
failed to graduate on time from Texas high schools in 2004. In their
lifetimes, the dropouts will cost the state some $32 billion in lost wages,
taxes and productivity, according to the study released in March.

SOURCES: Texas Education Agency, the Alliance for Excellent Education

Who is more likely to drop out

Those with low grades.

Those who miss or skip classes.

Dropouts tend to be older than other students in their grade.

Boys are at a higher risk. Girls are likely to drop out because of

Risk is higher for students from low-income or single-parent families or
families with unemployed parents.

Rates are higher for blacks, Hispanics and American Indians.

Rates are also higher for non-native English speakers.

Dropping out is more likely to occur in the southern or western United

Frequent use of suspension and increasing academic standards without
providing support can increase the risk.

SOURCE: The National Center on Secondary Education and Transition

Terry Webster, 817-685-3819 Eva-Marie Ayala,

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