Logging On: Virginia Sets Up Online GED Test To Help Residents

By Amie Knowles

July 15, 2021

Virginians may now take the GED test online, as some people still don’t feel comfortable doing it in person.

RICHMOND – The 2000 Census found that 18.53% Virginians age 25 or older left high school without a diploma in hand. If you’re among those 864,610 individuals, a new offering could change your academic future.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginians seeking a General Educational Development (GED) credential may now earn the academic achievement online. 

The option arose after testing centers across the country closed due to the health crisis. That left individuals lacking a secondary credential in need of an option besides face-to-face testing. The needed the secondary credential in order to secure a job or enter postsecondary education.

June 2020 became the first time in the GED’s then-78-year-history that interested participants received a virtual testing option. That’s when the GED Testing Service launched a pilot program, the Online Proctored GED Test.

The online option ensured valid testing results and integrity of the credential earned.

As testing centers reopen across the county, the Online Proctored GED Test will remain an option for the foreseeable future. The change provides additional flexibility and convenience to prospective test takers, while welcoming in a new era of opportunities for continued education.

History of the GED 

In the 1899-1900 school year, America’s high school graduation rate topped out at 6.4%. By the 1929-30 school year, the rate rose to 29%, rounding out at 50.8% at the end of the decade. While the graduation rate rose to 51.2% for the 1941-42 school year, it dropped to 42.3% in 1943-44. 

Around the same time the graduation rate decreased, America entered World War II. Signing up to fight, many American servicemen entered the military without a high school diploma. 

As many as 59% of white World War II veterans and 83% of Black veterans were not high school graduates. A total of 26% of white veterans and 55% of Black veterans never attended high school.

Translating that into the actual number of high school students who left school to fight isn’t a simple task. During the WWII era, troops had to be at least 18 years of age. If parents agreed, a 17-year-old could go off to war. Filled with a fervor for freedom, many teenagers lied about their age, claiming an earlier birth year to fit the requirements. 

An estimated 200,000 underage soldiers went unnoticed. Over the span of the war, the military detected and sent home approximately 50,000 underage troops.

Given the large number of servicemen leaving education to fight for the country, the U.S. Department of Defense partnered with the American Council on Education to develop an academic credential used in place of a high school diploma. The General Educational Development program officially began in 1942, geared toward military personnel and veterans who enlisted prior to finishing their high school education.

In 1947, New York offered the GED program to non-veterans. By 1974, all 50 states followed suit. 

A Modern Situation 

While students don’t oftentimes face the same educational hardships as pupils who left school in 1942, barriers to education still exist.

“The reasons many Americans don’t complete traditional high school vary, but we do know that many of our students experience challenges including, but not limited to, family issues, inadequate schools, health challenges, bullying and many other circumstances,” said Danielle Wilson, director of communications and stakeholder engagement at the GED Testing Service. “The GED credential provides a second chance for these individuals to earn a diploma that will lead to better employment and wage opportunities.”

The switch to virtual testing made an impact. 

“We have had a great response from students and educators,” Wilson said. “Test takers have reported that they would recommend this option to others and appreciated the availability of test appointment days and times, the convenience of testing from home – reducing the need for transportation, time off work and childcare – less risk of exposure to COVID-19 and reduced anxiety and stress in a home testing environment. Online testing offers the flexibility that many of our students need and desire.”

On average, Wilson noted that most GED students earn their credential within 90 days. However, they do so at their own pace. 

“Students start their journey with different levels of skills and education, and this can impact whether it takes a couple of months or more than a year. To earn a GED credential, a student must pass the four test subjects: Math, Science, Language Arts and Social Studies,” Wilson said. “Students prepare for the test in a number of ways including attending adult education classes, self-study with print and online resources and through programs like GEDWorks, where the student has access to a personal advisor.”  

A Drastic Drop

It’ll be a few more years before Americans realize how the 2020 switch to remote learning impacted high school students, specifically seniors. The National Center for Education Statistics lists the most recent graduation rate at 85%, but those numbers came from 2018. 

However, statewide graduation rates are readily available through the Virginia Department of Education. The 2020 graduating cohort had a graduation rate of 92.3%, up from 91.5% the year before. 

Another number decreased slightly from 2019. That was the number of high school students who earned their GED. In the 2020 cohort, a total of 957 students earned a GED. The year before, 1,064 students earned the academic credential. The state’s graduation rate doesn’t include GED recipients.

Sue Mansfield serves as the Virginia Department of Education high school equivalency specialist. She shared insight in reference to adult education programs in the commonwealth.

The number of adult GED recipients dropped drastically in 2020, but not by the fault of the students in the program. 

Comparing 2018-19 to 2019-20, Mansfield witnessed a 41% drop in the number of GED passers. That’s because most of the testing centers remained closed from March to June. Looking at the numbers, Virginians earned 3,859 GED credentials in 2018-19, compared to 2,275 in 2019-20. In 2020-21, a total of 2,324 Virginians earned their GED. 

“When comparing fiscal year 2019-20 to fiscal year 2020-21, there was a 2% increase in testing, reflecting the use of the online proctored option and testing centers re-opening around the commonwealth,” Mansfield said. “The GED testing program is gradually returning to its pre-pandemic results.”

A National Trend

On a national scale, the number of GED recipients also plunged in 2020. In 2018, a total of 156,887 Americans earned their GED, followed by 146,665 the following year. Last year, a total of 72,971 Americans earned their GED, according to numbers provided by the GED Testing Service. 

“These numbers are not surprising when we consider that availability of in-person GED testing was severely limited due to stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures during the pandemic,” Wilson said. “We did launch the Online Proctored GED test in late-May 2020 to help GED students that still needed to earn their credential. Since the launch of the offering, we have seen testing numbers increase with students taking advantage of the ability to test at home.”

Wilson further noted that not all states offer the GED credential as their high school equivalency test. Some states offer the GED test and other options. Virginia only offers the GED credential. 

Opening Up Opportunities 

Students who drop out of high school become ineligible for 90% of jobs in America. Having a GED in hand changes things.

“Earning a GED credential opens so many doors for a graduate. GED graduates go on to pursue postsecondary education, vocational training and careers in every field. GED graduates include lawyers, an astronaut, actors, nurses, educators, entrepreneurs and more,” Wilson said.

Wilson noted that nearly every college in the United States accepts the GED credential. Virginia graduates earning a College Ready score level sometimes attain additional perks. Some students may bypass college placement testing and place in credit-bearing courses at colleges in the Virginia Community College System. 

“…We believe 2021 and even today is the right time to start your journey. The first step is committing to the process, and you’ll have a whole community of friends, family members, educators, fellow GED students and graduates rooting for you along the way,” Wilson said. “We also know that the job market continues to become increasingly competitive and earning a GED credential is a good step in equipping yourself with the skills you need to succeed.”

With employment opportunities available and the added convenience of online testing, the doors are wide open for those seeking a change through education.

“Businesses are beginning to open and extend hours of operation after months of closure, with ‘help wanted’ signs everywhere. Someone who has a high school diploma or its equivalency has an edge on being hired than one who has not earned a secondary credential,” Mansfield said. “The earning of a GED credential will open doors for employment, additional training and-or postsecondary education opportunities. In addition, GED testing is free to Virginians who are enrolled in adult education for 12 hours or more and pass the practice tests.”

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected] 

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  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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