Thursday, August 12, 2004

Diploma option causes debate

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - A proposed GED program for struggling students still in high school has technical problems. For one, a student could bypass some of the state's accountability testing, education officials said Wednesday.

"It is a concern and something that needs to be factored in," Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit said in an interview.

Kentucky provides for dropouts to obtain a General Educational Development certificate. It is an adult education program administered through the Council on Postsecondary Education. Without a superintendent's waiver, participants have to be 17 or older and out of school for at least a year to take the exam.

About 6,500 16- to 18-year-olds were enrolled in GED classes last year, and about 3,500 passed the exam, according to preliminary figures from the council. Kentucky schools lost more than 7,000 dropouts in 2002.

The 2004 General Assembly ordered up a "secondary GED" for struggling students still in school.

Critics said a school could use the new GED to "dump" low-performing students who otherwise would drag down its test scores. To prevent that, the legislature specified that students in the program would have to be included in end-of-year accountability exams known as CATS - Commonwealth Accountability Testing System.

But Department of Education officials Wednesday said students could get around the CATS requirements. They offered the scenario of a 16-year-old who completed the GED sequence in the 10th grade year, then left school.

Kentucky law permits dropouts at age 16. Two Kentucky Board of Education members questioned how a student already on the verge of dropping out could be prevented from seizing on the new GED as a ticket out of school.

Richard Innes, an outspoken critic of CATS and Kentucky's handling of dropouts, said the department's admission was "almost a stake in the heart of the accountability system."

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