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The number of Americans passing the GED is dropping rapidly. Why? And who's left behind?

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Has the GED test always been hard? Some would say so. Especially if you are 20 years or more removed from high school and haven't thought of quadratic equations or Thomas Jefferson's verbiage since then. But for those trying to take the GED test in 2014, passage of the high-school equivalency is probably less likely than at any other point in the history of the test.

Changes to the 2014 version of the test were made to bring it up to date, in some people's eyes. That meant adapting the questions to reflect the new Common Core standards being taught in most high schools across the country, offering the test online only and not on paper, and requiring more essays. The results have been dramatic.

Based upon preliminary findings, about 350,000 fewer people will earn a GED nationally than in 2012, and close to 500,000 fewer than last year. The GED accounts for 12 percent of all the high-school diplomas awarded each year.

In Florida, 28,422 passed the test in 2012, and 44,688 did so in 2013, but only 6,677 had passed by mid-December 2014.

Other states have similar rates. The drop-off in Texas was about 86 percent; Michigan, about 88 percent.

Many think this is because the test is too hard, too focused on algebra and essays, too much analysis of history instead of knowing historical facts. But the main issue is: Who is the GED test for and what should it measure? Should it be geared toward determining if someone has the skills to make it in college, or the skills necessary to be employed and to move up to a better job? The GED has always struggled with servicing both groups; but right now, most GED test teachers feel the test has moved too far into measuring college preparedness.

"Raising the standards was an important thing to do, but without adequate teacher training and a significant investment in current technology, it left adult and correctional education students even further behind in educational achievement," says Stephen J. Steurer, executive director of the Correctional Education Association, the largest prison educational organization in the country. "It is a national tragedy that will continue to have repercussions for years."

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