State looks at alternatives to high school equivalency test

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jan. 30, 2018 9:00 am

QUINCY -- Monica Foster understands that some adult students just might not remember geometry or algebra skills for a test but might use those same skills in the workplace.

"If there was some way of credentialing them -- I don't know if it's just prior experience or if it's taking a certain course or what that would look like -- I do think some other alternative could be helpful for a number of students," said Foster, John Wood Community College's manager of adult education.

The Illinois Community College Board is looking to offer several alternative ways for people to earn a high school equivalency certificate, other than passing a test, by fall in hopes of putting more people in the workforce pipeline.

"Any extra opportunities that we can provide people to acquire their high school equivalency is very much a good thing," Regional Superintendent of Schools Jill Reis said.

Exactly what the new opportunities could look like has not been defined by Community College Board.

About 1.2 million people in Illinois don't have a high school equivalency certificate, also called a GED, said Jennifer Foster, the board's deputy director for adult education and workforce.

The GED is the most popular test taken to earn the certificate. But the number of people taking the exam in Illinois has fallen over the last four years as the test grew more rigorous, transitioned to an online format and became more expensive.

One of the more significant changes will be to help people who are only a few credit hours away from graduating from high school. Those people could pass a course at a community college or complete a credit-recovery program instead of trying to pass the four sections of the GED, Jennifer Foster said.

JWCC has seen fewer students coming in for GED classes, Monica Foster said.

"The test changed, which could be a reason," she said. "With the economy better now, more people are working, so it's not such a priority for them right now."

Students continue to pass the GED exam, but it has become more complex.

"Because it's a high school equivalency test, they have to keep up with the standards that a high school graduate would be coming out of school with," Monica Foster said. "Sometimes it just takes them awhile to get their skills up to the level where they can pass the GED."

Not having a high school equivalency can keep people from getting into the workforce and finding a better job, but an alternative "would benefit a number of people in the area and get them in the workforce," Monica Foster said.

Illinois already offers a pilot program that allows a high school student to graduate by displaying a certain number of competencies.

"It makes sense that we might see this being mirrored at the community college level," Reis said.

What makes people successful, she said, is being able to show each and every day that they have the foundation to do what their employer asks.

"As an educator, what somebody does day in and day out, how they perform the competencies they have, that is to me as important or more than what happens on one high-stakes test," Reis said. "I'm not saying there isn't a need for the test. I'm saying I can understand why (they're) looking at alternate paths."


Some information for this story was provided by the Associated Press.