Massachusetts’ failure to crack the top 10 for the best high school graduation rates is discouraging (“Mass. schools miss key top-10 list,” Metro, Nov. 27). While state policy makers have initiated programs to increase the graduation rate, they should consider a potentially significant dropout cause: the opportunity to obtain a GED.
The GED was developed in 1942 for veterans whose secondary schooling was interrupted by World War II. By 2002, GEDs were available to students 18 and under in 46 states. Although President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address called on states to raise their legal dropout age to 18, it remains 16 in Massachusetts.
Believing they can trade two years of high school for a few weeks of GED test preparation, some 16-year-olds may become more inclined to exploit their legal right to drop out. In fact, nationwide, more than 150,000 students age 18 and under obtained a GED in 2000. Some students are more likely to drop out when given this option. While dropping out may be the best decision for some, for many it likely isn’t.
Moreover, new federal and state accountability standards may give schools the incentive to redirect underperforming students from classrooms into GED-prep programs to prevent reductions in reported graduation rates. Further study is necessary to determine the effect of GED opportunities on dropout rates. We owe it to struggling students to think carefully about how to help them succeed.