Thursday, June 3, 2004

Talks proceed on diploma equivalent for dropouts

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - State Board of Education officials resumed talks on implementing a new program Wednesday that would allow potential high school dropouts an earlier chance to get their certificates.

Details were uncertain, and education officials on the board's curriculum committee said they wanted more information next month. But in concept, the plan would afford students close to dropping out an opportunity to take their high school equivalency tests rather than leave school with nothing.

They would also be provided counseling and tutoring to pass the test.

"We are trying to offer an option for students who have one foot out the door," said Dorie Combs, a board member. "It is something to be a midpoint between dropping out and staying in school, it is an option for students we are otherwise losing."

Currently, high school dropouts have different options for obtaining a GED certificate, depending on their age.

Dropouts below age 17 can take a GED test with their local school superintendent's approval or by meeting certain other criteria. Those between ages 17 and 19 may take the test if they've been out of school for at least a year, or if their class has already graduated. Those age 19 and over can simply take the adult GED test.

Under the proposal, eligible students would not face the same delays. However, students seeking their GED certificate would still have to take the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System exam for their equivalent grade level, along with the GED test.

But Richard Innes, of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, said this may encourage more students, already unmotivated to finish high school, to get their GEDs instead. Promoting the GED certificate at the high school level could give students the false impression it is as good as a diploma, Innes said.

"It's a quick way out, not a way back in to education," Innes said.

It could also dilute the quality of adults' GED certificates, he said. Most adults who get their GED certificates usually recognize they've made a mistake and have changed their attitudes, Innes said.

School districts like the idea because it could help lower their dropout rates, he said. Students earning their GED would not count as dropouts under the plan.

The full board would have to adopt a regulation that would establish the program.

The board also decided how it wants the $10 million Gov. Ernie Fletcher scrounged up for education allocated. The board is recommending that two-thirds of it go to preschool and the rest to technology.

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