Validating Alternative High School Credentials

Mikaela Serious 1

Mikaela Zetley, Research Policy Intern

The GED* often has failed to be seen as a viable option for students who have left school and now are seeking a future in education or the workforce.

In order to validate these equivalency exams as an option for disconnected students, there are viable policy changes to consider.

Overcoming Stigma- Naming the Credential

Stigmas attached to alternative high school credentials are hard to overcome. But some policymakers are working to return the relevance to the GED that the students who earn it deserve. One change I outlined in my last blog post is the option of changing the name of the credential students receive. Changing the credential to be dubbed a “high school diploma” can validate the credential both in the eyes of students and in the eyes of those hiring or selecting them.

GED & Accountability Formulas

The GED** is also struggling to find its place in discussions about national accountability. Currently, accountability measures imposed by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) guidelines restrict school systems from calculating GED recipients into any of their “graduation metrics” and count GED-earners only as dropouts. Because school systems receive no accountability benefits from GED completion, they have no incentive to invest time or funds moving overaged, undercredited students into equivalency programs. Even in state ESEA waiver formulas, most states, in accordance with NCLB guidelines, do not consider GED earners when calculating high school graduation rates.

States Finding Opportunity in Flexibility and Leading the Way

A few states, however, have started to innovate their practices. In South Dakota’s most recent ESEA Flexibility Request, they outline a new School Performance Index, which has now been approved by the Department of Education and implemented. The index includes five indicators:

  • Student Achievement
  • Academic Growth OR High School Completion
  • Attendance OR College and Career Readiness
  • Effective Teachers and Principals
  • School Climate

High School Completion Rate, one option for the second indicator, is calculated using two measures: High School Graduation Rate, “based on the four-year model,” and the Completer Rate, defined as the percent of students who, in the current school year, have obtained either a GED or a traditional diploma.

The Completer Rate is unique in that includes GED recipients in both the number of students completed as well as the total number of students, whereas traditional calculations only include GED recipients in total students. The implication is that completer rates will be slightly higher than traditional graduation rates and schools will more tangibly see the benefits of supporting alternative graduation methods. The full equation can be found on page 37 of the Flexibility Request, linked above.

South Dakota rationalized this choice of calculation by explaining that in the wake of increased ages of compulsory attendance, “schools and districts have stepped up and developed programs and options to ensure that students who may have previously dropped out have access to the supports they need to successfully complete their high school careers.” In their request, South Dakota encouraged the Department of Education to honor their commitment to “see[ing] all students finish high school, whether they do it the ‘traditional’ way or another appropriate route” (38).

Louisiana has also included measures in their ESEA Flexibility Request to give credit to school districts that encourage GED as an opportunity for high school completion. Under a section titled “Refining the High School Accountability Formula,” Louisiana officials state that they will be changing their formula in order to “focus schools and school leaders on measures that matter most—assessments of college- and career-readiness and high school graduation” (52). Their formula includes: cohort graduation rates, performance from End-of-Year Tests, ACT, and a new Graduation Index – each section counting for 25 percent of the overall calculation.

The new Graduation Index “ensures that schools are incentivized to support all students with multiple, rigorous educational experiences aimed at preparing them for success beyond high school” (56). This measure, pictured below in table 2.Q, taken directly from the Flexibility Request, demonstrates Louisiana’s validation of GED as an option for students to move towards postsecondary success, if traditional diploma options are not feasible.

Table 2Q

Photo: Louisiana ESEA Flexibility Request



The policy changes presented here show how policymakers are committing to the futures of all students, and, specifically, to previously disconnected students who have found opportunity through GED attainment. It is our responsibility not to put roadblocks in the way of those who are off-track but rather, to create opportunities for them to find success.

**In this post, I use the GED as a generalized term for means (tests) by which students can earn an alternative secondary credential. This includes primarily the GED, TASC, and HiSET tests.

**The use of GED in this and the following sections refers specifically to the language used in the cited documents.

Mikaela Zetley is a Research/Policy Intern at the American Youth Policy Forum.






The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.