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GED Confusion Could Jeopardize Testing in Juvenile Detention


Since 1996 kids at McLennan County’s Juvenile Detention Center have been able to prepare for the GED through Waco ISD’s Challenge Academy. But last year the campus lost its certification and students who prepared for the GED there were no longer allowed to take the test. As KWBU’s Jill Ament reports, the school is now applying to get its certification back. 

The Challenge Academy is a school for students who have been expelled from campuses anywhere in the county. The academy also provides educational services to kids in court ordered juvenile detention. Chris Rankin is the academy’s principal. He says at the very end of the last school year the TEA didn’t allow one of the students’ to take the GED. They said Waco ISD didn’t have an authorized program in place.  

Rankin says students would have to wait until they were released from court ordered detention to take the test through a community-based program like at MCC.

“So it’s not impossible to get them tested," Rankin said. "But it is better if we can test them while they’re with us in juvenile detention.”

Rules put in place last year by the Texas Education Agency require the Challenge Academy to get certified in order for its students to take the GED while still in juvenile detention. The Challenge Academy never applied for that certification last year. They were unaware of the changes until they sent a student to get tested. Rankin says the TEA rejected the student’s paperwork. And they had to apply for something called the High School Equivalency Program to become certified. 

Rankin says students should be able to take the test while in detention. He says making students take the test at a community-based like MCC disrupts their education. 

“We know that those students are getting well fed, they’re getting enough sleep," Rankin said. "We know that there’s no drug abuse going on because they’re on constant supervision.”

Rankin says overall not a lot of students end up taking the GED. Last year 10 students took the test while in detention and 5 passed. Since 2007 a total of 76 clients at the county’s juvenile detention center have taken the GED and 59 have passed -- averaging a 77.6-percent passing rate. Many of the students who take the test are also enrolled in the center’s long-term residential program called the CORPS program. Rankin says that program usually sees the most success. Since 2007 45 members from the CORPS program have taken the test and 84-percent passed. 

Teri Merlino is the assistant director at McLennan County’s Juvenile Justice Center. She says the most important part of getting the High School Equivalency designation is so that those who are in the residential program can continue to test while they’re in juvenile detention.

“We have almost a 20-percent better success rate of kids passing the GED while they’re in our program than if they wait and test when they leave,” Merlino said. 

The Waco ISD school board has approved the program application. The next step is to get approval of the application from the TEA.