Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Graduating from high school vs. passing the GED

One of the studies that Paul Tough has cited in various interviews as evidence that aspects of “character” like grit and perseverance trumps cognitive skills is that those who drop out of high school and get GEDs are more like high school dropout than like high school graduates in how well they do subsequently.

Tough’s assumption seems to be that the cognitive skills of those take the GED route are comparable to the cognitive skills of those who complete high school and earn diplomas. But if cognitive skills includes academic skills—and they should, or Tough is leaving out something really important—this is not a reasonable assumption. Unless you’ve taken a close look at the GED, you may assume that it’s largely a content-based exam, covering whatever material the test writers have determined that high school graduates should have, learned.

But the GED  is actually much more like a dumbed-down version of the SAT aptitude tests, consisting mostly of basic English and advanced arithmetic and data skills, including chart and graph reading skills, and not much at all in the way of content knowledge. What content does factor into the social studies and science sections appears in reading passages, charts, and graphs. Thus, what might look superficially like questions about world history or biology are actually reading comprehension questions and chart/graph-reading questions. Mixed in are a few items whose answers can’t be extrapolated from the test itself, but that tap the sort of common, everyday knowledge that many 18-year-olds will have picked up incidentally, outside the classroom (e.g., recycling and pollution).

In other words, you can pass the GED with no deep knowledge of algebra, no foreign language skills, and little knowledge of history, chemistry, biology, or physics. Of course, given the diminished instruction of so many of today’s schools, it’s quite possible to have minimal knowledge of algebra, no foreign language skills, and minimal knowledge of history, chemistry, biology, and physics, and still graduate from high school. But I’m guessing that students with high school diplomas still have higher average academic skills than students with GEDs.


Anonymous said...

Taking the GED, despite its dumbed down content, can indicate "grit" or character or perseverence. I know what the GED has and have helped people with preparing for it. There are many reasons why someone may not have a high school diploma, and many reasons why a student drops out of high school, including abuse at school or home situation, and taking the GED could be a way to persevere. Some of those preparing the GED were immigrants, and some even had advanced degrees in their own countries. And all these kinds of tests are dumbed down. They cannot have content knowledge, because schools teach different content. SAT does not have content knowledge. GED for Texas would have to have different content than one for Connecticut. Some politician or special interest group would try to dictate what content should be tested for. Politicians or religious people depending on what type of school and which state make the rules about what has to be taught and in which way history should be changed or science compromised.

Dentist Roselle said...

There is no substitution for a getting a complete high school education. I agree with the poster above in that a GED shows character.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that most people earning a GED are not looking for jobs that require a high degree of academic skill. Passing an aptitude test at least shows some basic intelligence, and bothering to take it after dropping out of high school indicates that the test taker recognizes that he has made a life mistake that he is motivated to correct. I suspect this may be more advantageous to a prospective employer than earning a degree from a lousy high school, which often entails little more than sitting in a chair for four years.

Anonymous said...

A high school diploma does not really mean much in some cases. My son got one at age 14 from a correspondence school, just so he could attend community college that required high school diploma if taking more than 9 credits. He did the minimum, but then took things like more advanced math at the community college, which was a better environment for him than local high school, where he would learn little except teen culture perhaps, which he was not interested in.
That is not to say that some high schools are very good. But many seem to be dangerous places, a microcosm of life where you crowd kids who do not have much judgment together with too few teachers and too few resources and cliques and mini-gangs. Depending maybe on the location of the school. The students who drop out and end up taking the GED often could come from such locations. Of course there are those that drop out for the wrong reasons, but why would any mature teenager want to be in some high school environments with all that goes on there?

Anonymous said...

My wife and I both got the GED. My wife dropped out of high school at 16, took the GED, and went to college at 17, because she didn't want to deal with another year of high school BS. I took the GED right after immigrating to the US because it was cheaper and faster than having my high school diploma translated. I got a perfect score on 3 of the 5 subtests (and really good scores on the other 2), and also went to college right after taking it (got a 720 on the SAT verbal and a 720 on the SAT math as well). IMO, the GED is about at a 7th grade level.