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HS equivalency testing down in Schenectady County

HS equivalency testing down in Schenectady County

At least one educator skeptical of report
HS equivalency testing down in Schenectady County
Graduates receive their GED diplomas in June 2013 in Schenectady.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

Editor's note: This story was corrected at 3:28 p.m. on March 2. A previous version incorrectly stated participation in equivalency tests was depressed in 2015. It was depressed in 2014, after state and local officials pushed in 2013 to get students to take the GED test.

Participation on the high school equivalency test in Schenectady County has dropped since 2010 – mirroring a statewide trend – according to a report released Thursday by a New York City think tank.

At least one local educator, however, was skeptical the Schenectady story was as bleak as suggested by the report.

According to the Center for an Urban Future, 70 percent fewer people took a high school equivalency exam in 2015 in Schenectady County than took the exam in 2010. That is a drop from more than 1,100 in 2010 to just 335 in 2015. Only Niagara County saw a more dramatic drop in participation, according the study from the Center for an Urban Future.

The report was based on data provided by the state Education Department, which showed the number of students who passed and failed the test in each county. The report shows that statewide participation on the equivalency tests has not recovered to the levels seen before the state transitioned to a new test provider in 2014.

“The bottom line is in our economy there are very few jobs that don’t require a high school diploma or equivalent,” said Tom Hilliard, author of the report. “If increasing numbers of people fail to get their high school equivalency, increasing numbers of people will be locked out of the skilled labor market.”  

Students who do not complete high school by age 21, and in some cases school-aged children, can take a high school equivalency test to demonstrate basic knowledge and skills. While the GED is the well-known test, other options are available. In 2014, New York switched from offering the GED to the TASC: test assessing secondary completion.

That changeover has caused a noticeable drop in participation, said Jesse Roylance, who runs Schenectady City School District's adult education program. In 2013, the state and local test providers pushed to “clear the pipeline” of test takers while the GED was still in place. Then in 2014, test administrations were on pause for a couple of months while the new testing regime was put in place. Moreover, the GED “brand” was so strongly associated with the equivalency diploma that some students may have been confused about what the new test is, Roylance said.  

But the test has also changed in difficulty, driving some potential students away, Roylance said. The newer test was aligned with Common Core standards, which had been implemented in K-12 schools, and more difficult questions were added to help distinguish which students were “college ready.”

Roylance said the Schenectady program administered 523 tests in 2015; the study counted 335 test completers that year. The difference may be in students who took the test multiple times before finishing.

The equivalency test and state-supported preparation courses is offered free of charge, but in 2015, fewer than 1 percent of New Yorkers without a high school diploma received an equivalency credential by taking the test, according to the center's report.

The state Education Department said it experienced a decline in participation on the equivalency tests after transitioning to the new test.

“We are doing everything possible with existing resources to encourage greater participation and to support better passing rates on the exam,” SED spokesman Jonathan Burman said in a statement.

The state's passage rate for the equivalency test also slid since 2010, according to the study, falling from 60 percent in 2010 to 53 percent in 2015. In Schenectady County, the passage rate ticked up from 65 percent in 2010 to nearly 69 percent in 2015.

Roylance said participation in the district's high school equivalency program -- which offers multiple test preparation classes on a daily basis and administers the test three times each month -- has appeared to rebound in the past couple of years. The program has also gotten more efficient with preparing students, he said, focusing on encouraging students to wait and take the test after they had passed practice versions.

“There used to be more of a walk-in-and-take-the-test attitude,” Roylance said.

There are 1,065 students in the TASC preparation program now, Roylance said. He added that around 275 students celebrated earning high school equivalency diplomas each of the last two years.

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