Last month, the GED Testing Service announced that they would lower the passing score for the equivalency diploma. Results from the latest version of the test, released in 2014, revealed both lower passing rates and that those who passed the tests were outperforming typical high school graduates in college courses. Since the test is meant to be equivalent to a high school diploma, the Service opted to change the passing score and recommended that states retroactively apply the new score. States are free to determine how they will apply the new policy. (North Carolina, for example, is opting for retroactive; that means almost 800 more North Carolinians will earn a GED.) In addition to the new pass score, the Service created two other cut scores: a college ready score and a college ready + credit score. They recommend students who receive these scores be excused from placement tests and/or remedial courses (college ready) or receive college credit in the related course areas.

GED Performance Levels

Source: Education Week []

We know that educational attainment has a significant impact on lifetime earnings and economic mobility. In the South, the median income for:

  • high school graduates is $26,500
  • people with some college, $32,299
  • four-year graduates, $48,317

and postsecondary education and employment outcomes for GED graduates are less than traditional high school graduates. But alternatives like the GED are critical onramps for those who are not on a typical pathway to economic security—especially in the South where we have half a million young people who are disconnected from work or school. To create conditions for thriving Southern communities, we must encourage individual mobility that rests on a combination of personal drive, deliberately supportive institutional practices, community supports, and the eradication of structural barriers—especially for those who start out furthest from opportunity.

America’s Promise Alliance has identified a critical practice for GED students and recipients: supportive relationships. Though some have posited that these individuals were lacking the non-cognitive skills—self-control, persistence, the now-proverbial grit—Alliance research revealed that no significant difference in these social and emotional competencies existed between GED and traditional diploma youth; rather, it was supportive relationships that were missing—and along with them, the connections to social networks that are vital to securing and excelling in employment. (We’ve written about these connections here.) In Don’t Quit on Me, the Alliance explores four types of social support—emotional, informational, appraisal, and instrumental—and the role each plays in a young person’s development and ability to complete a high school credential and move on to further education and employment. They recommend the following for community leaders who are trying to support young people on this path:

Assess risk and resources of young people in your community

Improve the odds that all young people have access to an anchor [relationship]

Engage health care professionals

Include social support systems

See education and youth services as an economic development investment

They’ve also got discussion guides for educators, grantmakers, policymakers, and others who want to tackle these issues in their own communities. These discussions and relationships will be necessary to help young people—smart, persistent, gritty young people—who have a GED make their way to more education, employment, and economic security.