Wednesday, October 13, 2004

GED path may get smoother


Ky. dropouts could go right to alternative

By William Croyle
Enquirer staff writer

A proposed state law that could lower school dropout rates has been approved by the Kentucky Board of Education, but whether it will work as intended is up for debate.

House Bill 178 would allow school districts to open secondary GED programs. That would allow those who drop out of school to immediately seek their General Educational Development certificate at school instead of a diploma.

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If they pass the GED test by October of the following school year, they would not count in a school district's dropout rate.

The board approved the measure last week and will hold a public hearing in November. The bill will then go to lawmakers for final approval, probably early next year.

"As long as school personnel administer it with strict enforcement of the guidelines, it's a good thing," said Rep. Jon Draud, R-Edgewood, who voted in favor of the bill. "It can help kids who otherwise would have dropped out."

But enforcement is what has some people concerned.

Bluegrass Institute, a state education research group, says the bill is "bad policy."

"With this change, Kentucky drops its standards," said Jim Waters, director of policy and communications for Bluegrass.

"The goal should be working on getting a high school diploma, not making schools look better."

Currently, someone who wants to enroll in a GED program has to be out of school for a year, at least 17 years old and his high school class must have graduated.

Critics say the proposed law will encourage students to try and take the easy way out by giving up on school, knowing that they can fall back on the GED program right away. But the Kentucky Department of Education says it's not that easy.

"A secondary GED program is more strenuous because you have to have exhausted every avenue possible," said Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the education department.

"If you meet the criteria to get into it, you're already on the verge of dropping out."

The secondary program would require students to be at least 16 years old and two grade levels behind the class of students they entered school with. They also have to have earned four credits or less.

Gross said schools will also look at students' assessment tests and require them to meet with school counselors before they can be approved for the program.

"A kid who says 'I don't want to finish school, I want to get out early' - it doesn't work that way," said Gross.

Robin Gelinas, policy associate with Alliance for Excellent Education in Washington, D.C., said GED programs can be beneficial by helping students get into a community college. But she said the primary focus should be keeping kids in school.

"We know that if you graduate from high school, you make roughly a third more than a dropout," said Gelinas. "And historically, GED students are on par with what dropouts make."

There were about 6,000 dropouts statewide in 2003, or roughly 3 percent. Dayton Independent Schools improved its dropout rate from 6.3 percent in 2002 to 2.5 percent in 2003.

But Superintendent Gary Rye said he'd still consider the secondary program.

"I see this as an attempt to give us another opportunity to serve these kids," said Rye. "I believe if it helps one kid get through, it's worth it."

E-mail wcroyle@enquirer.com




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