GED 21st Century Learning Pathways Pilots

Final Report


For the nearly 39 million U.S. adults who do not have a high school diploma, the General Educational Development (GED) programs and exam have served as the main avenue for improving individuals’ skills and helping them earn a high school credential. However, few students who start these programs ever get this credential and even fewer advance to the postsecondary education and higher-level training programs that could increase their earning potential. In response to this challenge, the American Council on Education (ACE) partnered with Pearson Inc. to release a new more rigorous GED test in 2014 that assesses the crucial thinking, writing, and analytical skills considered essential for success in today’s labor market. In addition, ACE partnered with the New York City Department of Education’s District 79 (D79), the Office for Adult and Continuing Education (OACE), and MDRC to create the Learning Pathways Pilots, a project aimed at improving students’ preparation for this new more rigorous exam.

The pilots focused on revising a K-12 writing curriculum (based on the Writers Express [WEX]) and an adult basic education math curriculum (based on Extending Mathematical Power [EMPower]) to align with the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core is a set of nationally recognized K-12 language arts and math competencies upon which the new GED exam was based. These curricula were then implemented in dozens of D79 and OACE classrooms. This report details the findings from MDRC’s evaluation of the implementation of these curricula over the course of the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 academic years.

Overall, the study found that the curricula were implemented broadly throughout both school districts and reached thousands of students. Administrators, teachers, and students saw value in the content of both WEX and EMPower, the curricula’s connections with the Common Core, and their ability to prepare students for the 2014 GED exam. However, a number of challenges arose in implementing the curricula. These included the transient nature of the student population and turnover in district leadership and management, which ultimately led to students receiving relatively few lessons from these new curricular models. Student outcome trends indicated that students in WEX and EMPower classes as well as those in OACE’s and D79’s regular programs achieved greater mastery of their math and writing skills over time. WEX and EMPower students also had GED pass rates similar to those of the national GED population. However, the design of the study did not allow for a causal analysis of whether the WEX and EMPower programs or other factors contributed to students’ skill development or pass rates.

While the Learning Pathways Pilots were successful in implementing more rigorous curricula in adult education classrooms, the experience also points to several ways that adult education practices might be modified to further facilitate new curricular reforms. These include the development of shorter lesson sequences that align with adult students’ attendance patterns; providing additional out-of-classroom support to give absent students the opportunity to work on course materials; and increasing faculty participation in decision-making about curricula, which may foster instructors’ ownership of reforms.