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Recent article on GED graduates "misleading'

Re: Study gives GED test a low grade, Jan. 21, questioning the value of the General Educational Development (GED) high school equivalency diploma.

The negative statements reported in your paper are based on a fundamentally flawed study by two University of Chicago economists, Steven V. Cameron and James J. Heckman. This research and related press coverage have done a serious disservice to millions of Americans who hold high school equivalency diplomas and to others who may be looking to the GED program as a means to improve their lives.

The GED tests are designed to measure academic skills and concepts associated with the essential content of a high school curriculum. GED graduates are required to pass a rigorous and comprehensive battery of tests in writing, social studies, science, literature and mathematics. The tests are more than seven and a half hours long and include an essay. Furthermore, passing scores are set by each state such that more than 25 percent of graduating high school seniors could not pass the GED tests. This means that GED graduates have high skill levels in reading, writing and problem solving. The Pentagon reported recently that, contrary to Cameron and Heckman's report, GED graduates do as well or better than high school graduates on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test.

The Cameron and Heckman research claims to show that on measures of income and job status, GED graduates do no better than other high school dropouts, and both compare poorly to those who hold a traditional high school diploma. Yet this conclusion simply cannot be sustained by the data. The study employs a questionable methodology, and its applicability is severely limited. Some examples:

They claim that GED graduates make only $500 per year more than dropouts. The appendix of their study notes that this is in 1967 dollars. This means that in today's dollars they earn, on average, at least $2,000 more per year than dropouts.

The GED tests were administered last year to 763,000 men and women, ranging in age from 16 to 96. Yet the study looked at only a small number (sample size of 162 GED graduates) of 25- and 28-year-old male GED graduates _ not 5,000 men as was widely reported by the Associated Press. Because average GED candidates graduate at age 24, they have six years less work experience as graduates than traditional high school graduates. Of course, there is a difference in earnings at this point! Cameron and Heckman grudgingly admit the possibility that "GED recipients and high school graduates will look more similar" at older ages. A more valid comparison would examine earnings since graduation. Such research is now being done in Iowa.

The study does not adequately acknowledge socioeconomic differences between high school dropouts and those who graduate. Students who stay in school generally come from more advantaged economic and educational backgrounds _ qualities that serve them well in the labor market. It is naive to think that once former dropouts gain their GED diplomas, the playing field suddenly becomes level.

The GED tests can neither measure nor erase the impact of socioeconomic differences, gender or race. Nor do they measure particular job skills. Criticizing the GED diploma because it doesn't work well as a predictor of vocational aptitude and skills, as do Cameron and Heckman, is like faulting your scale because it doesn't tell you your height. It isn't designed to _ the focus of the GED is solely on academic ability. Employers, knowing that GED graduates can read, write, think and compute, still must assess the specific aptitudes they require _ teamwork or independent work, sales or service _ as well as specific skills like word processing, nursing and so on.

As the nation strives to improve its educational system and upgrade the skills of the population, it is important that your readers understand the GED's intent and purpose. To the extent that misleading publicity creates doubt among potential employers about the capacities of GED graduates or causes some without high school diplomas to question the value of improving their education, the results may be tragic.

Jean H. Lowe, Director, The General Educational

Development Testing Service, Washington, D.C.

Opiate of the masses?

Despite the world sinking into a depression which will turn out to be worse than the one in the '20s and will affect all our lives, I note many letters to the editor on Feb. 16 from women as well as men, claiming to prefer the Sports section over everything else.

Lenin, the leader of the communist revolution, used to say, "Religion is the opiate of the people." Methinks that in the United States, sports is the opiate of the people.

Don Thomas, Dunedin

Criminal justice in Pinellas

One of the letter writers concerning your articles on Hiding the past, asks this question: "Have you only uncovered the tip of the iceberg? I would not be surprised! What about Pinellas and the rest of the state?"

It would seem to me that the St. Petersburg Times has a responsibility to the people of Pinellas County to tell them that the same reporters who wrote the articles about Hiding the past spent many hundreds of hours poring through the Pinellas County judicial records and could find nothing amiss. This speaks highly for the professionalism and integrity of the criminal justice system in Pinellas County.

Tammy Smith, Gulfport

The pigs are back, Diane

Please tell Diane Steinle that I found the pigs at the Florida State Fair this year. Last year I left dejectedly, after searching for pigs for over an hour. I too felt frustrated trying to locate the "country-fied" aspects of the fair. When I subsequently read her Times editorial comments mirroring my viewpoint, I knew it wasn't just me.

Someone suggested that I try the fair this year on a weekday, and I did. My little boy and I trekked over early and arrived by 9:30 a.m. on a Thursday; we were richly rewarded.

For hours we explored buildings full of cows, horses, pigs, goats, rabbits, poultry, dogs and all the charming and hospitable country folks that went along with them. We saw a mama pig busily tending her 11 piglets, a cow-grooming beauty salon, a young 4H-er lying in the hay deep in conversation with his best friend Holstein, and more implements and exhibits than we could handle.

Lastly, we attended a real rodeo at the Lykes Arena and were thrilled by the pace and action of the competitive events. It was a perfect ending to a full visit to the country at the Florida State Fair.

We're definitely looking forward to going back next year _ gotta check the piglet count for 1993.

Susan E. Ullmann, Clearwater

Trial lawyers respond

Re: Beware the bloodmobile chasers' bill, Feb. 13.

Your editorial on a blood bank bill pending before the Florida Legislature was mystifying. The bill does one simple and fair thing: It extends the filing deadline, or statute of limitations, to allow a reasonable time for the relatively few victims who contract AIDS through blood bank negligence to seek compensation. Under present law, if one is infected with AIDS-contaminated blood from a transfusion but does not develop AIDS symptoms until after the four-year time limit runs, his bad luck gets worse; his rights are destroyed. The bill you so harshly condemned merely allows an adequate time to sue after the patient learns he has contracted AIDS from a transfusion. It often takes at least five years before AIDS symptoms appear. This bill takes that into account and provides a reasonable time period for seeking compensation.

Blood banks, which do not practice medicine or treat patients, presently have special treatment on this issue that only doctors have, which is the shortest statute of limitations in Florida. The bill puts blood banks in the proper category, by giving them the same statute of limitations as all other companies, manufacturers and people in Florida.

The bill in question has absolutely no impact whatsoever on the liability of blood banks; it does not impact the "blood shield" statute; donors will not be liable, nor will liability be imposed without fault. If passed, the bill would protect individuals from blood banks that negligently fail to screen donors. The blood supply would not be endangered at all by this bill.

What is really unfair would be to allow a blood bank to fail to test a donor, negligently infect a hemophiliac, a child, a trauma victim or a surgical patient with AIDS, and get off scot-free because the disease didn't show up, as AIDS often does, until after the statute of limitations has run.

It should be noted that trial lawyers have not made lobbying this bill a priority. Maybe we should. These blood banks, which the editorial says are powerless, have over 15 paid lobbyists representing a number of special interest groups trying to stop this good bill.

Phil Freidin, President,

Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, Tallahassee

Permission to test required

Re: Law to protect medical privacy leaves helpful woman in limbo, Feb. 11.

You wrote "Health-care providers _ paramedics, EMS technicians, nurses, doctors, and others _ can request hepatitis and HIV virus tests on patients."

I would like to explain some pertinent information that your newspaper left out. We as health-care providers do not need the permission of a patient to test for hepatitis but it is a mandatory state law to obtain the permission of the patient prior to testing for HIV and if the patient says NO _ then it is the health-care providers' tough luck. Now here's another good part of that law _ if the patient tests positive we are not allowed to tell anyone but the patient he is positive. If we do tell anyone that the patient is HIV positive, we can be sued and charged with "invasion of privacy."

I and many other health-care providers would gladly consent to be tested for HIV, but it works both ways. My husband being a physician and myself being a registered nurse, want to be able to test patients for HIV, inform health-care providers and others who were exposed to the patient and be able to give out the result.

I feel sorry for Connie Medero-Jacobs, she as a citizen and Good Samaritan should not have to be subjected to this situation. We all have families who depend on us, whether being a Good Samaritan or a health-care provider, the law needs to be changed so we are able to go home to our families today and say, "No, I'm not going to die, my patient's test came back negative."

Francine Roca, R.N., Palm Harbor

The real budget buster

Re: Congress keeps piling on the pork.

James J. Kilpatrick, in his Feb. 7 column, remarked that "Congress ran up a deficit in 1991 of $268.7-billion. The deficit will come to at least $399.4-billion this year, $351.9-billion next year."

Is he unaware the president has the constitutional duty to prepare and present a budget to the Congress for a fiscal year? He surely must know that ex-President Reagan and President Bush have never, ever presented a budget that was in balance.

He asks, "How do we get this way" _ a three-year $1-trillion deficit? The answer is so obvious that it is ludicrous to attempt to saddle the "hogs" as the culprits.

It is time to stop denouncing the Democratic-controlled Congress as budget busters and place the onus on the Republican president whose budgets each fiscal year always call for greater expenditures than revenues!

Sol Cohen, Palm Harbor

American drivers lazy, stupid?

During the latest battle over the state of the U.S. automobile industry and Japan, a Japanese official labeled American workers lazy and stupid.

Could this also be true of American drivers? Too lazy to use their directional signals (blinkers) and too stupid to realize how this causes hesitation, indecision and accidents?

Derrick Battle, St. Petersburg

Share your opinions

We invite readers to write to us. Letters for publication should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, 33731. Or they can be sent by facsimile machine by calling the Times' fax number, (813) 893-8675. They should be brief and must include the handwritten signature, telephone number if available and address of the writer.

Letters may be edited for clarity, taste and length. We regret that not all letters can be printed.

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