Band-Aid solutions to state GED failure
Posted on 04/27/16 in Education & Training
In this year’s State of the State, Ohio Governor John Kasich honored Margo Hudson, an adult literacy tutor from Cleveland who earned her GED on her sixth try in 2012. Margo is a lifelong learner and leader. Ohio needs many more people like her, but given the collapse of Ohio’s GED system, you have to wonder how many potential Margos are being left behind.
A Policy Matters report in February documented barriers that caused the number of people passing the GED to plummet 85 percent, after Pearson VUE, the world’s largest for-profit education corporation, took over and made changes in 2014. The company tripled the cost to $120; began requiring online registration and test taking; and made the test more complex. These changes created huge obstacles for the very population that the GED is meant to serve — low-income individuals.
The system failure is such that it has actually hurt the economic standing of Greater Cleveland, a recent guest columnist on Cleveland.com wrote. The high share of Clevelanders without a high school diploma contributed to Cleveland’s ranking as the most economically distressed big city in the nation.
Some steps have been taken to address the dismal testing and passage rate. One change is that Pearson decided to retroactively lower the score needed to pass the exam this past January. This allowed 1,425 Ohioans who had taken their test after January 1, 2014, to pass all or a portion of the GED; however without reimbursement for additional tests taken in the meantime. While helpful to that small group, this does nothing for the far larger group that would have passed under the old approaches. Our prior report found that if we had simply kept pace with our five-year average pass rate, there would be an additional 22,000 Ohioans with a GED. Further, content and test-complexity isn’t the only barrier facing low-income test takers, and weakening standards will not necessarily help Ohioans make gains on a career ladder.
Ohio also created a GED Reimbursement Voucher Program to alleviate some of the increased cost. When the program started, the $4 million budget allocation was projected to help up to 25,000 test-takers cover the increased cost of the GED. Vouchers cover up to $80 of the $120 for first-time test-takers who take career or educational guidance through a career and technical school. This is helpful, but the vouchers have been underused, as our table shows. Only 9 percent of the budget allocated for vouchers was used in 2016 and fewer than 5,000 students throughout the state got a voucher. (Learn more about vouchers here).
In 2016-2017, funding to the voucher program was cut in half, falling from $2 million to $1 million per year. After Policy Matters Ohio and others raised concerns, the Ohio Department of Education agreed to continue providing vouchers through June 2017 instead of ending them this summer.
While it is good news that the program will continue, it is not clear whether the voucher program is reaching the people it is intended to help. Policy Matters Ohio has asked the state for information on how the vouchers are being used. After multiple inquiries, the Department of Education released few details. The department said it paid only $51,956 for vouchers in 2014 — 3 percent of the available funding for that year (see table). In 2015, the amount jumped to $520,610. This increase, according to the agency, is largely due to the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections being added to the program. This spending is but a fraction of the total amounts appropriated for the program in the previous budget, and reached only about 15,700 test-takers total.
The data does not tell us much, if anything, about the effectiveness of the program.
What is abundantly clear is that too few Ohioans are taking and passing the GED. The increase in cost is one of several barriers the Pearson VUE created for low-income test-takers. Ohio needs to reevaluate its dependence on the GED and the supports provided to test-takers. Twenty-two states have expanded high school equivalency testing options, and Texas as well as Colorado will be expanding soon. Ohio should restore the system to where it again can help thousands of Ohioans earn a degree and advance up the career ladder.
-- Drew Canfield, with Hannah Halbert
Drew is a Policy Matters research intern.