Introducing Performance Level Descriptors

Posted by on January 28th, 2016

If you are teaching your students the skills they need to pass the GED® exam, you have likely heard of performance level descriptors (PLD). Unfortunately, many teachers overlook the benefits of using PLDs to teach students the best way to study for the test. They shouldn’t. Knowing your students’ PLD is like having a secret code that will help them pass the test. When your students know exactly what to study for, it gives them a leg up on test day.


What Are Performance Level Descriptors?

Performance level descriptors indicate exactly what students at a specific grade level should know or be able to do. With regard to high school equivalency testing, PLDs are used to indicate exactly where each student is performing within a subject on the GED® practice exam. The first level indicates that the student is not passing in that subject, the second level indicates a passing exam score. The third level indicates that the student is passing with honors. You can use these PLDs to determine which skills and knowledge your students lack.


Reasoning Through Language Arts

Level 1 students can comprehend and analyze simple passages and infer the sequence of events, but they may struggle to identify structural relationships consistently. Minor editing and detailed summarization are other skills associated with Level 1. Students performing at Level 2, which is passing, can put events in order, analyze challenging passages, and use context to determine the meanings of words. Level 3 students exceed expectations by using advanced editing skills and evaluating arguments and complex passages.


Mathematical Reasoning

Students working at Level 1 demonstrate limited math proficiency. They are likely to be able to compute area of simple shapes, evaluate short linear expressions, and apply basic number properties. Level 2 students can simplify expressions, apply math to real world problems, find median, determine mode, calculate mean and evaluate simple quadratic equations. Level 3 students demonstrate excellent proficiency in math and demonstrate skills in geometry, analyzing data, statistics, and evaluating complex algebraic expressions.



Level 1 students demonstrate limited proficiency in their abilities to evaluate scientific texts, apply scientific methods, and interpret data. Students at Level 2 are able to express scientific information verbally, apply scientific formulas, refine hypotheses, and understand graphics. Level 3 students can reconcile conclusions and theories, make accurate predictions based on evidence, and understand scientific presentations.


Social Studies

Level 1 students possess the ability to analyze social studies text on a basic level, apply concepts to arguments, and interpret data related to history. Level 2 students can identify central ideas from primary and secondary sources as well as identify chronological events. Level 3 students can identify and evaluate historical documents to find the author’s intent, describe connections between graphics and history, and read complex historical texts.


Implementing Performance Level Descriptors in the Classroom

Practice tests will allow you to assess the current skill level of your students. Once you have a specific PLD for each student, you can focus instruction on the specific skills and knowledge each student lacks. Your goal should be to encourage students to move to the next level. When your students are at Level 2 of the practice exams, they are ready to take the GED exam.


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