What is this measure, and why is this measure important?
One of the primary focuses of most adult basic education programs is helping individuals earn a high school equivalency certificate or GED. The GED provides a path to certify high-school-level academic knowledge and skills attainment, which can open the door to better job opportunities and/or postsecondary education. Adults ages 25 to 34 may choose to pursue a GED for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to having dropped out of high school or failed to pass required state assessments that lead to a standard high school diploma, immigration, home schooling, the desire to improve job prospects and so forth.
As shown in the previous indicator, on the path to college degree attainment, earning a high school equivalency certificate represents the first hurdle that must be overcome for roughly one in eight adults ages 25 to 34. This measure is important because it helps states understand the degree to which this group of young adults is taking steps to improve their educational attainment. It shows the proportion of the target population who are attempting a GED and earning a GED.
What are the policy issues associated with this measure?
A high school diploma or its equivalent provides a foundation for basic job skills, but in order to create a highly qualified workforce, states should strive to help young adults use a high school diploma or GED attainment as a launching point for further education and training as opposed to an endpoint of an educational journey. States should develop or enhance outreach programs to target segments of the population who have not yet earned a high school credential and examine existing policies and programs to identify potential barriers to participation in adult basic education programs. Although there is a need to increase access across states, it is also clear that many states need to develop strategies to improve pass rates for young adults who are already accessing basic adult education services.
Where are we now?
As of 2010, 3.1 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 with no high school diploma are GED candidates (Figure 10.2a). When disaggregated by state, the percentage of young adults with no high school diploma who are GED candidates ranges from 1.3 percent in California to 9.5 percent in Maine (Figure 10.2b).
In 2010, 1.9 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 with no high school diploma attained a GED (Figure 10.2c). When disaggregated by state, the percentage of young adults with no high school diploma who attain a GED ranges from 0.7 percent in Rhode Island to 5.2 percent in Maine in 2010 (Figure 10.2d).
When interpreting this measure, what should be kept in mind?
The GED test battery is composed of five separate assessments in reading, writing, mathematics, science and the social sciences. To earn a GED, a test-taker must earn a minimum passing score within each content area and surpass a minimum total score across the five areas. Passing scores are set by individual states. ACE defines a “candidate” as any individual who attempts at least one of the five tests. The test-taker must neither finish a test nor achieve the minimum score in order to be included as a candidate. “Completers” are defined as those who test in all five content areas, and “passers” have met the requirements set forth by their state and are awarded a GED. Completion and pass rates vary by state. Figure 10.2a focuses on candidates in order to show the proportion of state’s target population who are taking the first step toward a GED. Figure 10.2b focuses on passers in order to show the proportion of the target population that achieves the goal of a GED. Comparable information for completers is not presented in the ACE annual statistical reports.
Estimates of the number of adults ages 25 to 34 with no high school diploma are from the five-year American Community Survey data, as it contains the lowest margin of error of the three options available from the U.S. Census Bureau. Thus, the same denominator is used for all years included in this indicator. Although it is unlikely that the actual number of adults without a high school diploma in this age range remained exactly stable, the size of the margin of error in the one-year estimates relative to the size of the population of adults in the same age range attempting or earning a GED is of concern. State-level ranked data in particular should be interpreted with caution, as the margin of error in estimating the size of the target population of interest is, for some states, nearly as large as the estimate of the number of adults ages 25 to 34 attempting or earning a GED. However, both the raw numbers and the calculated estimates suggest that for the vast majority of states, only a small portion of adults without a high school diploma are taking the first step toward becoming eligible for entry into postsecondary education.