Homeschooling Parents: What You Should Know About the GED Exam

Earning a high school diploma from an accredited institution means that one has achieved a certain level of proficiency in high school coursework. It’s the minimum credential employers look for and an educational requirement for college entrance. Homeschooled children don’t necessarily have the backing of an accredited institution; and while most have diplomas, they’re usually endorsed by their parents.

In the past, homeschooled children took the GED Exam to prove to employers and colleges that they had achieved a basic level of proficiency. But the trend requiring the GED has shifted. Homeschoolers no longer need it. In addition, modifications to the GED itself is making it, as a standard, increasingly obsolete; and some states are looking at alternatives to replace the GED.

History of the GED

Developed during World War II, the GED exam (general education development) was a way the military could provide a credential for servicemen who were deployed into combat before high school graduation. Successful passing of the GED exam provided servicemen with a certificate that could be used as proof of high school equivalency in the civilian workforce. For servicemen applying to college after combat, it was as acceptable as a high school diploma and had universal acceptance in all 50 U.S. states and in Canada. For adults who couldn’t afford to take four years to finish high school, it was a cheaper, faster alternative.

Unfortunately, there were issues with the GED. It carried a stigma. Those who took it were compared to high school “drop-outs.” And study after study showed that passing the GED wasn’t the same as four-years of learning. Learning outcomes were better for those who invested the four years of learning and studying for the GED simply wasn’t equivalent. (Cameron & Heckman, 1993; Tyler, 2003).

In 2011, the GED went through a major overhaul. Under fire for not being in compliance with common core standards, the American Council of Education (ACE) entered into a partnership with Pearson Learning. Pearson, the sole GED test designer, has brought the test up to common core standards that is supposed to assure colleges, universities, and prospective employers that adults with the GED are able to complete and succeed in a more “global economy.” Unfortunately, the change has made a much more expensive test that is more difficult to pass. While the cost for the old GED test was $30, the new one designed by Pearson Learning is $120 (prices vary by state and may include fees) and requires customized materials for purchase that teach potential test-takers needs in order to pass the test.

According to data collected through the GED Testing Service, the new test is problematic. The pass rate has been abysmal.

“There was a drop this year of almost 90 percent in the number of people who earned a GED across the country this year. In 2012, 401,388 people passed, and 540,000 passed in 2013. Only about 55,000 passed this year.”

The numbers are similar throughout the country. In Georgia, as of Nov. 31, Online Athens reported, “5,340 people had completed the test and 2,270 had passed, a 51 percent pass rate. For the 2013 calendar year, 28,732 people completed the previous test and 22,178 passed, or about 77 percent.”These figures should be concerning to you if you’re a homeschooling parent. and the steep costs mean that most who take it will have to shell out hundreds of dollars to pass. Some states, as a reaction, are reevaluating the credibility of the GED and the feasibility of replacing it with alternative tests.
This change just reinforces reasons why homeschooling parents don’t want their children to take the GED. Why take an exam that a) doesn’t measure the potential learning, b) has a high fail rate, and c) is exorbitantly expensive.

Homeschooled Children Are Not Drop-Outs

While not the rule, generally speaking, homeschooled children tend to outperform their peers who attend traditional school programs. In one study, 16,000 homeschooled subjects were analyzed in reading, language, and math. The “mean in reading for homeschoolers was at the 79th percentile; for language and math, the 73rd percentile. Iin addition, nearly 80% of homeschooled children achieved individual scores above the national average and 54.7% of the 16,000 homeschoolers achieved individual scores in the top quarter of the population, more than double the number of conventional school students who score in the top quarter.”

How Can Homeschooled Children Prove High School Proficiency?

High School Diploma: While not endorsed by an accredited institution, homeschooling parents can purchase diplomas and endorse them themselves. With accompanying transcripts, the diploma should be accepted by employers and college admissions. If not accepted by college admissions, homeschooling parents can get help, legal if necessary, through the Home School Legal Defense Association. An advocacy group for home schooling parents, it has created legislation that protects the rights of homeschooling parents to educate their children at home. It also negotiates guidelines by which homeschooled children can access secondary education.

Homeschooled children who apply to college should indicate that they’re homeschooled. Why? Since most colleges receive some kind of federal funding and many students need FAFSA, a federal source of financial aid, a student must show proof of high school proficiency. Even without a high school diploma from an accredited institution, homeschooled students are eligible for financial aid on a federal level.

Alternative Tests of Proficiency: Since the roll-out of the new and intensely difficult GED, a few states have begun adopting alternative testing for students who don’t want to take the GED.  One exam, HiSET is the high school equivalency exam offered by ETS. The tests costs $50 and covers five subjects: reading and language arts, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies. Like the GED, HiSET is computer-based, modular (can be taken in parts or in total). Another type of standardized test is called TASC. Developed by CTB/McGraw-Hill, an educational publisher, the test also covers five subjects and costs a mere $52. Not nearly as difficult as the GED, it was designed as a transitional test to help students who didn’t learn concepts under a common core curriculum develop those skills.

If homeschooling parents want to register their children for the alternative tests, they should check with State guidelines and standards. Most but not all states recognize the alternative tests.

In cases where colleges ask for something more than a parent-endorsed high school diploma, Home School Legal Defense can advocate and if a homeschooling parent ends up in court, the advocate claims it will provide full representation to members.


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