Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

New GED Chief Faces Sagging Testing Rates despite High Minority Dropout Numbers

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

New GED Chief Faces Sagging Testing Rates despite High Minority Dropout Numbers

Article excerpt

Widely recognized as the equivalent to a high school diploma, the General Educational Development test, or GED, is as critical as ever for high school dropouts, particularly minorities. A recent Education Week study finds that 44 percent of all Hispanic and about half of all Black and American Indian students will drop out of U.S. high schools this year, while only 24 percent of White students are expected to drop out. As the nation's Hispanic population continues to swell, the GED is expected to play an increasing role in access to college or the work force for these and other minorities.

Although many education advocates argue that the GED is needed now more than ever, only 665,927 U.S. students took the test in 2004, according to the GED Testing Service's most recent statistics. The annual number had hovered around the 800,000 mark prior to 2002, when the test was revamped to address complaints by employers that GED-holders still lacked basic writing skills. The numbers have not rebounded since a 43 percent drop in the number of test-takers immediately followed the introduction of the more rigorous test. Officials are starting to work now on another redesign for 2011.

Newly minted GED Testing Service Executive Director Sylvia E. Robinson has her work cut out for her. She is faced with the challenge of keeping the bar set high enough for GED-holders to compete in a rapidly changing economy while ensuring that every student who needs to take the GED has the opportunity to do so. She recently sat down with Diverse to talk about her background and her plans for the GED.

DI: How has your professional background prepared you for this position?

SR: I'm a first-generation college student from the Boston area; I finished high school in 1966. The Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. I know that many people worked very hard and sacrificed very much to make educational opportunities like Stanford available for students like myself. My first significant opportunity [was] a position at Wellesley College as a career counselor. I was in the career center for five years, and then I was dean of the class of 1986. So that was my real foundation in higher education.

When this opportunity [at the American Council on Education] to head the GED Testing Service came up, I really felt that this was an important step. It was a real connection to that commitment to do something that can make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged students or those who haven't successfully completed the traditional high school diploma. And it was something I really thought was a national challenge and one that I wanted to pursue.

DI: How has the experience of having your own child take the GED helped you in this position?

SR: I have four children, and my second daughter took and passed the GED in 1990. It certainly gave me a fuller appreciation of the challenges some students face who don't find success in the traditional high school path. She's now in her last year of the nursing program at Northern Virginia Community College, and has been inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, which is the honor society for community colleges. So I'm very pleased that she's had such success. The GED provided her a second chance.

DI: What partnerships does the GED Testing Service have with high schools?

SR: We have contracts with all 50 states, and all the provinces in Canada. The actual test administration takes place on the local level. With a number of states, we have a partnership program that allows students who are in the 10th and 11th grades and having difficulty with the traditional high school track to move into a GED Options Program where they can do the test preparation and successfully, we hope, pass the GED. …

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