Evaluating GED Programs

Evaluating GED Programs

Evaluating GED programs can be pretty difficult since every program can operate differently. There are no federal mandates concerning correctional education in states as far as I’ve found. To top it all off, operationalizing the success of a GED program differs for each researcher. Barbara Wade analyzed 13 articles in a literature review called Studies of correctional education programs. She had two goals: (1) to look at evaluation techniques of correctional education programs and (2) to look at the analysis techniques. The two most common evaluation techniques were recidivism and education achievement. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Wrong.

Operationalizing Recidivism

Wade’s article criticizes the disparities when defining recidivism. Recidivism can be simply defined as a previously incarcerated individual reoffending. Operationalizing recidivism, however, is not easy. Some programs see recidivism as re-incarceration, others focus on re-conviction or re-arrest. Why is this a problem? Those words don’t all mean the same thing. A re-arrest doesn’t mean that a person was convicted of a crime, which means they very well could have been released and/or have been innocent. Also, many people that are re-arrested are often re-incarcerated until their court date. Being charged ≠ Guilty. Most of the time a re-arrest doesn’t even signify a new crime, but a probation violation. This could be as simple as failing to show up for a meeting with your probation officer. 

Recidivism as the Measure for Success

If someone commits another crime after completing an educational program, does that mean the program didn’t work? To assume that education alone can change someone for the better is pretty wishful thinking. There are a multitude of factors that can affect a person’s rate of recidivism.  Reentry problems as well as drug abuse, mental illness and financial problems are just some of the few contributing factors. Often, inmates go through a risk-assement before and after these programs to determine who is more likely to recidivate. The takeaway: Policymakers shouldn’t just rely on recidivism rates to determine the success of educational programming.

How have the articles I’ve read operationalized programming success?

Here’s a few:

  1. Article: The impact of prison education on community reintegration of inmates: The Texas case. The purpose of this article was to examine: (1) the effectiveness of WSD, an educational program in Texas, and (2) the impact of correctional education on employment prospects and recidivism. It had three measures: educational achievement, employment, and recidivism.
    • Recidivism was defined as “the reincarceration of an inmate in a state facility for a new offense or parole violation during the follow up period.” The sample was tracked for two years after they were released to obtain this data.
    • Employment was defined as “an offender having any wages reported to the central state workforce agency in the first year following release.” For this, the sample was tracked for only one year
    • Educational achievement was defined as “movement from one group to the next.” The original sample was put into 3 different categories based on their education level. The three categories were: (1) functionally illiterate, (2) nonreaders, and (3) GED/College path. The goal was to move up to the next group. For GED/College path individuals the goal was to obtain the degree.
  2. Article: Corrections rehabilitative programs effective, but serve only a portion of the eligible population. This article was conducted by the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability in Florida to analyze the effectiveness of Florida’s rehabilitative programs. The program’s success was determined by (1) the completion of the program, (2) the obtainment of employment after release, and (3) reduced recidivism.
    • Recidivism was defined as “(1) a new conviction resulting in readmission to prison within two years of release and (2) a new conviction resulting in readmission to supervision or prison within two years of release.”



  • Corrections rehabilitative programs effective, but serve only a portion of the eligible population. (2007). Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability
  • Fabelo, T. (2002). The impact of prison education on community reintegration of inmates: The Texas case. Journal of Correctional Education, 53(3), 106-110.
  • Wade, B. (2007). Studies of correctional education programs. Adult Basic Education and Literacy Journal, 1(1), 27-31.



  1. I too have been working on evaluating an intervention-type program and I agree with your point–the results of academic achievement and recidivism alone do not tell the full story. It depends first on how those items are measured. Even when perfectly operationalized and studied, GED programs might not make the impact policy makers, who fund it, are looking for. The tangibility of results often overlooks important additional factors. People work in a great ecology of systems and institutions. They overlap, complement, and challenge one another. The individual also acts on them in return. Sometimes the lives of previously incarcerated individuals is at the intersection of so many programs–you might have the justice system, welfare and housing, the work place, education, drug counseling, etc. all meeting. GER training alone may not lead to the desired effects expected, but could make a difference in other ways. I’m glad your research is figuring out how to conceptualize that. The answer might have to look outward of the prisoner-education dichotomy and expand the individuals interactions with other systems and environments, too.

  2. I totally agree! I really wanted GED programming to be the end-all-be-all, but in reality it wasn’t that simple. One of the biggest pushes against my theory was drug abuse and mental illness. Education doesn’t really address the needs of those individuals and they make up a large portion of this population. In reality it makes sense that there would be multiple solutions depending on the individual, but it’s hard to account for those individual differences in research, especially considering the size of the correctional population. It’s so nice to hear from someone who understands my struggles.