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Published in Print: May 1, 2002, as Scoring Backlogs, Paperwork Problems Accompany New GED

Scoring Backlogs, Paperwork Problems Accompany New GED

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Revisions to the General Educational Development certificate that took effect earlier this year have caused headaches for testing officials from several states as they struggle to implement the changes to the high school equivalency program.

The new test, which states starting using in January, has caused scoring backlogs in California, paperwork problems and scoring difficulties in New York state, and an overhaul in training for test examiners in Texas.

"Any time you come out with a new test, you will have challenges," said Joan C. Auchter, the executive director of the GED Testing Service at the American Council of Education, the Washington-based nonprofit organization that administers the test. "It's a learning curve for [state officials]."

"The first four months are going to be a major transition," she added. "But once they get it all ironed out, [the problems] will go away."

Still, Ms. Auchter said only a few states have experienced difficulties and that many have raved about how easy the transition to the new test has been.

Some of the troubles stem from a new scoring system. Much of the new test is scored electronically. Only six states— Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Texas, and New York—used such a scoring system before 2001.

One challenge that many states faced even before changes to the GED took effect in January was trying to cope with the large number of students who rushed to take the old exam, which was perceived to be easier, before the Dec. 31 deadline.

Nancy Edmunds, an associate analyst in the California Department of Education's GED office, said that more than 30,000 people took the test in November and December alone. Normally, about 60,000 Californians take the test each year.

Scoring such a high number of tests in a relatively short period of time has proved challenging in places such as New York. Some 73,000 people took the GED in New York state last year—8,000 of them in December. Some testing centers in the state reported staying open until midnight on Dec. 31 to accommodate the demand.

Bubble Trouble

More than 750,000 people in the United States, Canada, and U.S. territories take the GED test each year, according to the testing service. Today, about one of every seven Americans earns his or her high school credential through the GED program.

GED officials decided to revamp the test this year to make it more rigorous and to make it more accurately reflect equivalency with a high school graduate's skills in an era of high-stakes testing and standards-based education. ("The GED: New Tests, New Challenges," Jan. 23, 2002.)

The alterations to the 7½ hours of testing in writing, reading, social studies, science, and mathematics stress analytical ability and problem-solving skills, testing officials say. The changes represent the first adjustments made to the GED since 1988.

In California, from 4,000 to 5,000 students have taken the new exam since state testing centers opened on Jan. 15. But Ms. Edmunds said that the state was unable to score those tests until February because it hadn't yet received the answer keys from national GED officials.

But Ms. Auchter said that GED officials sent the answer key to California officials on Jan. 21. "At most, we could have delayed their scoring by a week," she said.

The tardy test results also have caused difficulties for GED test-takers trying to meet application deadlines for college admissions or financial aid, Ms. Edmunds said.

California testing officials have been able to provide some students, whose tests have been scored but who haven't yet received their official notifications of passing, with documentation stating that they have passed the exam, Ms. Edmunds said.

"Our biggest problem," she said, "was that we had deadline events that all happened at once."

The state had to retrain and prepare testing administrators in less than two weeks, as well as provide the state's 200-plus testing sites with access to secure Internet portals so they could issue scores, Ms Edmunds said.

In New York state, testing officials say the new tests have brought extra paperwork.

Patricia Mooney, the New York state's chief examiner, said that each test-taker must fill out eight pages of demographic information. "It's a lot tougher," she said, "because it's harder to keep proper documentation all in one file."

Testing officials in New York also say they have noticed an increase in scoring errors. To date, more than 3,500 students have taken the new GED in New York. The state is facing a backlog in scoring 1,500 of those tests in part because the new format has increased scanning errors, Ms. Mooney said.

She said that stray marks or poorly erased answers on the scorecard can be misread, causing the scanners to reject the cards. "And ACE has refused to give us any hand-scoring materials, which would be helpful," she said.

Ms. Auchter acknowledged that the GED Testing Service no longer provides hand-scoring keys. The testing service also pared the number of scoring sites from more than 3,200 to 16.

"It was a security decision," Ms. Auchter said. "Now if a test is compromised, there are only 16 places where they could have happened. Anytime there are multiple versions of the key, you multiply the chances for it to get lost or misplaced."

As in California, New York officials also say they have faced a delay in receiving answer keys. But Ms. Mooney said a bigger problem has been the state's post-Sept. 11 budget crunch. Funding cuts have caused shortages in staff and limited the testing officials' ability to process scores.

By contrast, Texas, which tested more than 100,000 students in 2001, waited and did not start offering the new test until February. State testing officials used that extra time to ensure its testing administrators received training in how to give the new exams.

In addition, said G. Paris-Ealy, the director of the Texas Education Agency's GED unit, the state has used an electronic scoring system for several years, so it had already worked out some of the kinks that other states are now experiencing.

Texas GED officials have experienced "small technical problems because of the new forms and instructions." Ms. Paris-Ealy said.

"Sometimes," she said, "it slows [the testing] down."

Vol. 21, Issue 33, Page 10

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