Revised GED Ushers in New Era With More Options

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With each update of the GED since 1942, there has been some angst among students and adult education teachers. This time around, a newly revised General Educational Development test comes with some new competition in the assessment market, making for a bumpy transition in some states as they coped with a late 2013 surge in test-takers hoping to pass the old GED while adjusting to the altered testing landscape.

The American Council on Education, the longtime, nonprofit provider of the GED, partnered with education giant Pearson to develop a more rigorous, computer-based exam that began rolling out this month. At the same time, test-makers CTB/McGraw Hill and the Educational Testing Service have stepped into the market, offering their own high school equivalency assessments.

Forty states and the District of Columbia will offer the new GED for now. Four of those states will also make available one or both of the new alternatives—CTB's Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC) and ETS' High School Equivalency Test (HiSET). The remaining 10 states, including New York and New Hampshire, have dropped the GED and are exclusively offering either TASC or HiSET.

The transition has created gaps in testing and confusion among some people looking to finally earn a high school equivalency diploma. The situation is different in every state and may not settle down for some time. As states watch the rollout elsewhere, some may switch providers or add tests, making for a fluid marketplace.

Lack of Public Messaging

States were so busy last year accommodating students who wanted to take the old GED before it retired that there hasn't been much messaging about the new tests yet, said Lennox L. McLendon, the executive director of the Washington-based National Council of State Directors of Adult Education.

Nationally, the GED Testing Service estimates there was a 20 to 25 percent increase in test-takers in 2013, up from 674,000 the year before, according to spokesman C.T. Turner. In Kentucky, test-taking volume was up 80 percent and New York had an increase of 43 percent.

A state official in New York acknowledges it will take work to inform the public about the new TASC test. For instance, the state is asking employers and colleges to change the GED box on applications to say "high school equivalency credential" to be more generic, said Kevin G. Smith, the deputy commissioner for adult career and continuing services at the New York education department.

"It's challenging because there is a 70-year brand name they are used to," said Mike Johnson, the national adult education sales manager for CTB/McGraw Hill, whose tests have been adopted in six states, including Indiana, New Jersey, and West Virginia.

The GED Testing Service expects a drop of about 10 percent from the average test-taking volume in the year following a redesign, said Mr. Turner.

Many testing centers are located on campuses that are just getting up and running after the winter break. While New York had hoped to have the new TASC test available for test-takers by Jan. 2, the 269 approved testing centers received the new tests in mid-January and will begin to offer the test in the next few weeks.

"We know the first quarter will be slow and we are comfortable with that," said Mr. Smith. "Test centers are burnt out and tired."

Costs Vary

In December, the New York Board of Regents grandfathered in students who passed a portion of the old GED so they could count their test scores toward the new credential.

Kentucky decided to stick with the GED and on Jan. 2 had 22 testing centers open. State officials said last year there were 70 centers, but others will be converted soon and those open have extended hours, providing adequate coverage.

Massachusetts did not decide on the new HiSET until early January, delaying the rollout of the new test into February. In all, 11 states are offering that exam.

ETS is expecting several more states to issue requests for proposals, as changes are made to remove references to the brand-name GED in state laws, expanding opportunities for other testing companies, according to Amy L. Riker, the director of the ETS testing program.

"Competition is good for the market," said Mr. Johnson of CTB/McGraw Hill. It allows states some flexibility and options to use more affordable tests, he said.

Costs to students vary depending on how much a state subsidizes the exam. The new GED is generally $120, but $40 is returned to testing centers. The HiSET is $50 and TASC is $52, but the fees do not cover administrative costs. The two new vendors give student the option of taking the tests online or with paper and pencil.

All three exams cover English/language arts, science, social studies, and mathematics. The designers of all three exams say they are carefully aligned with the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by most states. Unlike the new GED, however, the other two exams will become progressively more difficult over time, the test-makers say. The rigor of the HiSET will continually increase over the next two years. The TASC is mostly multiple choice now, but each year more questions in different formats will be added to test students' depth of knowledge, its designers say.

Preparing for the New Exams

The new GED will be more challenging than its predecessor, say the makers of that exam, as it was designed to reflect new expectations in high school and to align with the common core.

The GED Testing Service is offering an online portal to prepare student for its exam and Mr. Turner said about 50,000 individuals have signed up for a free account.

Meanwhile, last spring, the National Council of State Directors of Adult Education offered training on how to prepare students for the more rigorous tests. Mr. McLendon, the group's executive director, said that because adult education is taught in many different settings, and often with part-time teachers, it's difficult to figure out the best methods of instruction.

"The common core tells you what to teach, not how to teach," he said.

Related Blog

Another issue is simply getting the word out about the new assessment landscape. Wyoming is offering students all three assessment options for equivalency credential testing in 2014. To inform the public, adult education officials have sent out press releases to the media, notified other state agencies with memos, and distributed student flyers explaining the prices for the different tests and the computer or paper-based options.

In Nevada, where all three exams will be offered, Ken Zutter, an adult- education-accountability specialist for the Nevada Department of Education, said the state is encouraging vendors to advertise to help inform the public about the options, but students may be guided by what's available at their local testing center. Not all centers have made the switch to the new exams, but the goal is to have all up and running within the next four to six weeks, he said.

"We are just beginning to focus on the transition," Mr. Zutter said. "There will be a lot of opportunity for our students, but change management always has its challenges."

Vol. 33, Issue 18, Page 7

Published in Print: January 22, 2014, as Revised GED Ushers in New Era With More Testing Competition
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An earlier version of this story gave incorrect cost information for CTB/McGraw Hill’s Test Assessing Secondary Completion.

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