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Taking the easy way out : how the GED testing program induces students to drop out

2008-12-15, Heckman, James J., LaFontaine, Paul A., Rodriguez, Pedro L.

We exploit an exogenous increase in General Educational Development (GED) testing requirements to determine whether raising the diffculty of the test causes students to finish high school rather than drop out and GED certify. We find that a six point decrease in GED pass rates induces a 1.3 point decline in overall dropout rates. The effect size is also much larger for older students and minorities. Finally, a natural experiment based on the late introduction of the GED in California reveals, that adopting the program increased the dropout rate by 3 points more relative to other states during the mid-1970s.

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The american high school graduation rate : trends and levels

2008-12-15, Heckman, James J., LaFontaine, Paul A.

This paper applies a unified methodology to multiple data sets to estimate both the levels and trends in U.S. high school graduation rates. We establish that (a) the true high school graduation rate is substantially lower than widely used measures; (b) the U.S. graduation rate peaked in the early 1970s; (c) majority/minority differentials are substantial and have not converged over the past 35 years; (d) lower post-1970 rates are not solely due to increasing immigrant and minority populations; (e) our findings explain part of the slowdown in college attendance and the rise in college wage premiums; and (f) growing high school graduation differentials by gender help explain increasing male-female college attendance gaps