Some states dropping GED as test changes to online, price spikes

Monday, April 15, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT
Deni Loving teaches a GED class Thursday in Kansas City. Several dozen states are looking for an alternative to the GED high school equivalency test because of concerns that a new version coming out next year is more costly and will no longer be offered in a pencil and paper format.

KANSAS CITY — Several dozen states are looking for an alternative to the GED high school equivalency test because of concerns that a new version coming out next year is more costly and will no longer be offered in a pencil and paper format.

The responsibility for issuing high school equivalency certificates or diplomas rests with states, and they've relied on the General Education Development exam since soon after the test was created to help returning World War II veterans.

But now 40 states and the District of Columbia are participating in a working group that's considering what's available besides the GED, and two test makers are hawking new exams.

"It's a complete paradigm shift because the GED has been the monopoly. It's been the only thing in town for high school equivalency testing. It's kind of like Kleenex at this point," said Amy Riker, director of high school equivalency testing for Educational Testing Service, which developed one of the alternative tests.

Last month, New York, Montana and New Hampshire announced they were switching to a new high school equivalency exam, and California officials began looking into amending regulations to drop the requirement that the state only use the GED test. Missouri has requested bids from test makers and plans to make a decision this month. Several others states, including Massachusetts, Maine, Indiana and Iowa, are making plans to request information about alternative exams.

Meanwhile, Tennessee and New Jersey are exploring offering more than one test.

"The national situation is definitely fluid," said Tom Robbins, Missouri's director of adult education and high school equivalency, noting that other states plan to use the GED for now and bid later.

The pushback comes as GED Testing Service prepares to introduce a new version of the exam in January. In the first revamp since for-profit Pearson Vue Testing acquired a joint ownership interest in the nonprofit Washington-based GED Testing Service, the cost of the test is doubling to $120. That's led to a case of sticker shock for test takers, nonprofits and states. Some states subsidize some or all of the expense of the exam, while others add an administrative fee. The new GED test would cost $140 to take in Missouri if the state sticks with it.

Kirk Proctor, of the Missouri Career Center, said the organization is looking for a way to cover the increased test cost for students participating in a GED preparation and job training program he oversees. He said his students can't come up with $140, noting they need help paying for the current, cheaper test.

"A lot of them are just barely making it," he said. "Transportation is a challenge. Eating is a challenge. For them, coming up with $140 for an assessment, it's basically telling them, 'Forget about ever getting this part of your life complete.'"

One program participant, Nicole Williams, a 21-year-old Kansas City mother of three, said she was hopeful she'd pass the GED test soon so she could avoid the electronic version. With it, she said, "you've got to learn how to type, use the computer, plus your GED. That's three things instead of just trying to focus all on your GED test."

Developers say the new version is needed because nearly all states are adopting tougher math and reading standards to ensure students are prepared for college and careers. Because the new version is so different, a million or so adults who have passed some but not all of the five parts of the current GED test must complete the missing sections by Dec. 31. If not, their scores will expire, and they'll have to begin again under the new program Jan. 1.

"The GED was in dangerous position of no longer being a reflection of what high schools were graduating," said Randy Trask, president and CEO of GED Testing Service, which previously was solely operated by the nonprofit American Council on Education.

He said the computerized version, which students are passing at higher rates than the paper version in pilot sites, will be cheaper to administer because states will no longer have to pick up the tab for things like grading the exam. For test-takers who fail a section, the computerized version provides details about what skills they need to work on before retaking the exam.

"I personally went into it a little bit naively," said Trask of the new version. "I don't know why I expected a marching band, but I did because I'm convinced that what we are doing is the right thing for the adults in this country."

Competitors responded with a paper version and a cheaper base price, though GED Testing Service said its price includes services the other two test makers don't. The alternative exams' makers also said they will work with states to find ways to combine scores from the GED with their new exams so students who have passed some sections of the current GED won't be forced to start from scratch. GED Testing Service said that would undermine the validity of a state's equivalency credential or diploma.

Trask also said he feared the competing exams would be confusing for colleges and employers. But states considering switching say they'll put more emphasis on the equivalency credential or diploma they issue rather than the test taken to earn it.

Art Ellison, who leads the Bureau of Adult Education in New Hampshire, called the sudden choice in the exams "the new reality of adult education." His state and Montana are switching to HiSET, a $50 test that the Educational Testing Service, or ETS, is offering. Both states said cost influenced their decision, with Montana's Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau proclaiming in a news release that residents "looking to improve their economic situation by obtaining a high school equivalency diploma should not have to overcome a significant financial barrier in order to achieve that goal."

Ellison also noted that a paper option was important because many students in adult education classes lack the skills needed to take a computer-based test and that it will take time to beef up the courses to add that training.

Meanwhile, New York chose California-based CTB/McGraw-Hill's new Test Assessing Secondary Completion, or TASC. Developers said it will range in price from $50 to $60.

Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in a news release that without the change, New York would have had to pay the GED test maker twice as much or limit the number of test takers because state law bars residents from being charged to take the equivalency exam.

"We can't let price deny anyone the opportunity for success."

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Ellis Smith April 15, 2013 | 7:03 a.m.

It might be of some interest to compare the contents of these alternative tests to those of the GED as offered in recent years.

What are the range of subjects and degree of difficulty of some of these tests versus recent GED tests? The same, more comprehensive and/or difficult (THAT will be the day!), or simply continuing the now well-established trend to "dumb everything down" in primary, secondary, and, sadly, even college education?

If students can't score well, using well-established rules of the game, we'll just change the rules - downward. Always downward! Maybe that's not the case with these proposed tests, but SHOW us it isn't with actual data.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield April 15, 2013 | 8:53 a.m.

"We can't let price deny anyone the opportunity for success."

Good grief. How much more must taxpayers shell out? Here in CoMo, we already spend more than $122,000 per student for K-12 -- and far more for those who attend schools where a majority of parents and students don't value education. Those who choose to squander taxpayer money and the opportunities that come with it deserve no sympathy.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 15, 2013 | 10:15 a.m.

It's difficult to read the article and NOT get the impression that the concern seems mainly to be about testing costs and not what the need for testing shows us (either with the present GED or one or more of the proposed tests): how bankrupt our present primary and secondary public education system has become - and I am not referring to dollars when using the word "bankrupt."

If the public system were as it's being advertised, how many GED or similar tests would even neeed to be given? Wouldn't nearly all the students graduate from 12th Grade?

Fuzzy Logic 101.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle April 15, 2013 | 6:03 p.m.

Doesn't sound like "dumbing down" to me: "Developers say the new version is needed because nearly all states are adopting tougher math and reading standards to ensure students are prepared for college and careers."

The height of irony is the private, for-profit Pearson Vue Testing thinking it could partner with the non-profit, arbitrarily double product costs, and maintain a lock on the market. Sounds like the organization failed that basic logic test.

Pity, too, the society that thinks improvement will come by punishing people and making it progressively more difficult for them to take advantage of educational opportunities, when those people failing to take advantage of those services to begin with is really the core of the problem.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 15, 2013 | 6:35 p.m.


To repeat myself, "If the public system were doing as it's advertized, how many GED or similar tests would even need to be given?"

For various reasons, some surely would, but how many? When are we going to admit that the underlying system is broken? Admitting that just COULD be the first step to actually doing something to correct things.

We have become experts at "papering over" situations that should be patently obvious.

(Report Comment)
frank christian April 15, 2013 | 7:40 p.m.

"When are we going to admit that the underlying system is broken? Admitting that just COULD be the first step to actually doing something to correct things." Get liberals such as Derrick to "admit" that and we'd be almost home. To them, requiring students to learn before advancement is punishing people". The taxpayer "investment" is more important than the results achieved, with our educational system. And sadly, they know it.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 16, 2013 | 5:42 a.m.


The word "punish" in Derrick's post didn't escape my notice. Yes, Frank, let's "punish" today's students - as we too were "punished" in our time.

How can we do that, Frank? The perfect place to begin is to make certain that even though they nominally graduate from the system (in this particular situation, from high school) they have seldom been challenged educationally, and are poorly prepared for even the lesser challenges they will and must must face in adult life. That would stringent punishment.

Let's tell both them and their parents that "socialization" (note that I have not capitalized that word, and that's deliberate) of students is more important than mastering language and mathematics skills. We must learn to get along well, even if we exit the system educationally dumber than the perverbial fence post.

If students can't speak English as their first language, let's be sure to teach them only in whatever language their parents speak, so that when they enter adult society (unless they plan to move back to their family's country of origin) they will be linguisically doomed to become second-class American citizens, often passed over for better available jobs.

Strangely, prior generations of immigrants to this country DID somehow manage to learn English. Mein Grossmutter was educated entirely in German before coming to the United States, States*, but she managed to make the transition to English.

Our current educational standard is in fact "no standard," but that's okay so long as we don't punish any student by implying that he or she might need to apply themselves. How wicked of us to do that!

*- My first name, also my father's first name, is taken from Ellis Island, which apparently made a lasting impression on Grossmutter. I mention that because I wonder whether today's students, who supposedly are being taught United States History, even know the historical significance of Ellis Island.

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