Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2013 - (Page 8)
EDUCATION WEEK JUNE 6, 2013
Diplomas Count > www.edweek.org/go/dc13
High School Equivalency Test
Gets a Makeover
New computerized GED exams to be more rigorous—and costly
Why New Assessments?
“It was definitely time for [the ged assessment]
to be revamped. It would lose its relevance and
authority if it wasn’t,” says Barry E. Shaffer, an
adult education consultant and a retired director
of adult education in Faribault, Minn.
A driving force behind the new assessment has
been a need to prepare students better for life
beyond high school and the demands of today’s
workforce. Research by the American Council on
Education, which has run the ged program for
about 70 years, found that although 65 percent
of ged test-takers plan to go on to some form of
postsecondary education, only 35 percent enroll
within seven years, and just 12 percent earn any
higher education credential.
Since 1942, the ged tests have been updated
three other times—in 1978, 1988, and 2002.
“The ged test has always been a reflection of
what is happening in high schools,” says Randy
Trask, the president of the ged Testing Service,
which has offices in Washington and Bloomington, Minn. “Our high schools are all going
through a radical transformation to college- and
career-readiness standards,” he says. The new
ged exams will show if students have the skills
to get through the first year of college without
taking a remedial course.
Nationally, one in seven high school credentials
are ged certificates. In 2011, about 723,000 students (average age 26) took the tests, a number
that has remained relatively flat for the last decade.
Although the growing popularity of credit recovery and new alternative competency-based
credential systems may account for some of that
lack of growth, most experts and ged proponents
acknowledge there will always be a need for the
ged exams or some similar high school equivalency assessment.
Nearly 16 percent of American adults do not
have a high school diploma, according to federal education officials. More jobs are requiring higher levels of education, and ged Testing
Service officials say they are only scratching the
surface of potential test-takers.
The new ged assessment will cover four subject areas: literacy, mathematics, science, and
social studies. Its more-rigorous content will be
aligned with the new Common Core State Standards, which ask students to do more analysis
and deeper-level thinking.
When details emerged last fall about the revised ged tests, though, some adult education
leaders worried about states’ ability to cover
the cost and acquire the new technology, and
whether students could adapt to the computer
model and tougher content.
“Our initial reaction was ‘a little too far, too
fast, folks,’ ” says Kevin G. Smith, the deputy
commissioner for adult career and continuing
education in New York state. “It’s not a simple
matter of aligning the test and putting out a new
test instrument that is computer-based.”
Students and instructors need time to gear
up, he says: “It doesn’t happen overnight and it
doesn’t happen without cost.”
New York and other states began to look for
alternatives through a working group of 41 members from the National Council of State Adult
Education Directors, a Washingon-based professional association.
Ctb/McGraw-Hill, the New York City-based
educational publisher, was the first to jump into
the market, developing its own Test Assessing
Secondary Completion, which New York has
committed to using. Meanwhile, the Princeton,
N.J.-based Educational Testing Service and Iowa
Testing Programs have joined forces to launch
the High School Equivalency Test, or Hi set.
Montana and New Hampshire have adopted the
ets version of the test, and other states, such
as Tennessee, are considering offering both the
Hiset and the ged.
Converting to a new system at a time when
education dollars are tight is a challenge for
many. “Nationally, it’s just a mess,” says Shaffer,
the Minnesota consultant. “But it can be resolved
at the state level with a good bit of collaboration,
discussion, [and] policymaking.”
Hard to Compare
To use other test vendors, some states, such
as Washington and Tennessee, are in the midst
of rewriting laws to wipe out references to the
brand ged. But the ged Testing Service reports
that at least 20 states have publicly indicated
they will continue to use its new tests.
“I think this is all smoke now,” says Trask of
the ged Testing Service. “No one has anything to
compare, only promises of what they are going
The ged Testing Service maintains that its new
assessment is the only one that will align completely with the common core, and Trask says
it’s “almost offensive” to assume students can’t
adapt to computers or acknowledge that today’s
job market requires those higher-level skills.
Last year, the ged Testing Service piloted the
computer testing with 40,000 students of all
ages, socioeconomic classes, and computer-skill
levels. Results were encouraging. According to
the testing company, the passing rate on computers was 88 percent, compared with 71 percent
for the paper test. The exam went more quickly,
too, with students finishing in 5½ hours versus
8. Also, adults who took the test via computer
were 59 percent more likely to retake a failed
test instead of giving up and dropping out of the
Under the organization’s new model, $40 of the
$120 fee charged to students will be returned to
the testing centers to cover the cost of giving the
exams. That makes its fee competitive with the
$50 Hiset or the $54 Test Assessing Secondary
Completion, Trask says.
Already a developer of adult basic education
tests, ctb/McGraw-Hill was well positioned to
provide an alternative to the ged tests, says
Richard Patz, the vice president of research and
engineering for the company. “We know how
By Caralee Adams
or many dropouts, especially those
who are too old to return to the public
K-12 system, the ged assessment has
long been the main route to the high
school credential that eluded them.
But, come January, getting a General
Educational Development credential
won’t be the same.
Gone will be the paper-and-pencil tests. Students instead will take the exams on a computer
and know the same day if they passed. Content
will be more rigorous to align with new common
academic standards for most high schools, and
test-takers will receive a separate college- and
Along with the big changes, comes a bigger
price tag: $120. That’s about double what it was
before the American Council on Education partnered with the for-profit publisher Pearson to
form the new ged Testing Service.
Just how much students pay—and whether
they can take the ged tests at all—will depend
on where they live.
Concerns over cost and access to the revised
exams have prompted ctb/McGraw-Hill and the
Educational Testing Service to enter the market at the same time with their own high school
equivalency tests, leading some states to drop
the ged exams altogether or offer students a
choice. Other states are expanding alternative
paths to getting a diploma with competencybased programs.
All those changes exacerbate students’ confusion over a patchwork of policies and options for
students without a high school diploma. The situation varies across the country because adult education services, which also cover teenage dropouts young enough to be in school, are operated
and financed differently in each state.
States set their own fees for testing. Some subsidize the cost of the tests, while others charge an
administrative fee or have students foot the bill.
The testing situation will likely become more fluid
as administrators sort through the details and
consider how to prepare students for the change.
One outcome is sure: The uncertainty is expected to translate into a surge of ged test-taking
this year, before the landscape changes significantly in 2014.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2013
Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2013
A ‘Neglected’ Population Goes Back to School
Age Can Determine Access To Free Education, Diploma Pathways
State Statistics and Strategies
High School Equivalency Test Gets a Makeover
Reasons to Stay: Tailored Interventions
Online Providers Find a Market In Returning Dropouts
Second-Chance Challenge: Keeping Students in School
A Chicago Charter Network Stanches The Flow of Dropouts
Sound-Engineering Class Hooks Reluctant Student
Teenage Father Makes Journey From Dropout to Top Student
Honor Student Disconnects, Re-engages at CCA
Graduation Rate Approaching Milestone
TABLE: Graduation in the United States
DATA: Detailed Analytic Portrait
TABLE: Graduation Policies For the Class of 2013
Sources and Notes
Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2013