“Gatekeeper Credentials” The Changing Landscape of High School Equivalencies: Exploring the Implications for Access and Equity for Communities of Color

By Kisha Bird

Last month, CLASP in partnership with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights held a timely and important roundtable discussion on high school equivalency: Roundtable Discussion: “Gatekeeper Credentials” The Changing Landscape of High School Equivalencies: Exploring the Implications for Access and Equity for Communities of Color. The purpose of the meeting was to provide an overview of the new high school equivalency tests, including the GED®, that will take effect in 2014, hear perspectives of local providers, discuss concerns, and identify next steps to ensure low-income communities and communities of color have adequate access to earn a secondary credential. Participants included a cross-section of youth, education, and workforce policy advocates, practitioners and program providers, along with civil rights advocates.

This conversation is critically relevant to black male achievement and the ability of young black men who have dropped out of high school to get back on track and earn a secondary school credential.  Youth and young adults ages 16 to 24 represent a large number of those needing access to high school equivalencies pathways, such as the GED®.  The 6.7 million young people disconnected from school and work – with 3.4 million having been unattached to school since age 16 —  are disproportionately African American and Hispanic.  According to the GED® Testing Service, over 50 percent of the individuals taking their test were under the age of 25.   Employment prospects are significantly decreased for those lacking a secondary school diploma.  Just 25 percent of African American high school dropouts age 16-24 are employed as compared to 47 percent for their white counterparts.

In less than six months, beginning in 2014, the GED®  test and its administration at the federal, state and local level will change, impacting some 25.7 million people between ages 18 and 64 and who are without a high school diploma or equivalent. This is the largest overhaul of the GED®, the most widely recognized alternative to a high school diploma, in seven decades. 

As of January 2014, in several states, the GED® will no longer be the only test available that allows students to obtain a high school equivalency.  Other high school equivalency assessments have been developed by the Educational Testing Service and CTB/McGraw-Hill.  Indiana, California, Florida, West Virginia, and Massachusetts, are considering options and have formally issued RFP’s. Tennessee is planning on a dual-system, including the GED® and another test option.  Most notably, New York State made headlines in March after announcing it would be dropping the GED® in favor of developing its own exam in order to keep costs low and allow its Education Department to effectively serve youth and adults. Montana and New Hampshire also announced they would be switching to a new high school equivalency exam and are dropping the GED®.

This is a dramatic pendulum shift in the world of adult education and for the millions of youth and adults that seek alternative pathways to earn their high school diploma and gain entry into post secondary education and jobs with decent wages.  Since 1942, the GED® has been synonymous with high school equivalency in the U.S. and widely recognized by employers and postsecondary institutions. As this shift happens, many advocates and practitioners are concerned by the impact these changes will have on access to these gatekeeper credentials, in particular for disadvantaged and underserved communities. 

This dramatically changing landscape for high school equivalency set the stage for a dynamic conversation at the roundtable we held.  Participants expressed a variety of concerns including:

  • Capacity of providers to adapt to changes
  • Inadequate funding of the adult education system
  • Understanding the impact for youth/young adults, individuals with disabilities, women, black males, and other underserved communities
  • Understanding how the new GED® 2014 and other high school equivalencies will be interpreted and rallied by employers and higher education institutions

The roundtable participants also discussed need for holding K-12 schools accountable for providing students with a strong education and not pushing students out to programs that may not be high quality.  Against this need, though, is a tension with how to ensure that there are quality education and career pathways for those that find themselves outside of the traditional education system.  This leads to  the importance of having policy dialogues across these spectrums to discuss issues of funding, service delivery capacity, quality, access, impact and outcomes.

The roundtable provided a launching point to discuss concerns and to begin to develop shared language and messaging around this issue. Moving forward CLASP and the Leadership Conference plan to develop a set of shared actions with other national and local advocates that will ensure there is equitable access to these gatekeeper credentials. See meeting fact sheets:

High School Equivalency Crisis

High School Equivalency Crisis: Youth In Focus

An Increasing Number of Americans Lack a High School Diploma

For information on the new GED® and the other high school equivalency exams, visit GED® Testing ServiceEducational Testing Service, and CTB/McGraw-Hill.