GED test supremacy threatened

The best-known high school equivalency test, the GED, is getting its biggest makeover in decades. It’s also facing increased competition.

There are in the neighborhood of 40 million adults in this country without a high school diploma. Since the end of World War II, their second chance has been represented by three letters: G.E.D. They stand for General Educational Development tests.

But the high school equivalency exams are getting a makeover -- and along with it, some competition. New York has become the first state to reject the new test.

The new GED will reflect the Common Core standards most states have adopted, to measure readiness for college and careers. There will be no more pencils and paper -- it’ll be computer-only. And, New York officials say, the price will jump from $60 to $120.

“We simply could not allow the doubling of the price per test taker to go without any policy response,” says Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state board of regents.

In New York, it’s illegal to charge people to take the GED, Tisch says. The state has to cover it. So New York announced yesterday it’s awarded a contract to CTB/McGraw-Hill to develop a cheaper alternative.

The door opened for competition a few years ago when the nonprofit GED Testing Service joined with publishing giant Pearson to form a for-profit company, says Jeff Livingston, McGraw Hill’s senior vice president for education policy.

“Before that action was taken I don’t think anybody was even thinking about an alternative to the GED, because the program had been in place for nearly 70 years,” he says.

The GED’s response? Bring it on. Randy Trask, president of the GED Testing Service, says of the 40 million adults without diplomas, only about 435,000 pass the GED each year.

“I’m hopeful that with competition people will be looking for ways to better engage many of the Americans that have not availed themselves of the opportunity for a second chance at education,” Trask says.

Dozens of states are exploring other options. Some officials worry a computer-only test will keep more people away. The McGraw-Hill alternative will have a pencil-and-paper option.

Maryland is sticking with the GED for now. “Close to 40 states have already implemented some form of computer-based GED testing,” says Patricia Tyler, director of adult education and literacy services for the state. “Pass rates are very, very high.”

Still, Tyler’s office is gearing up for a surge in people rushing to pass the old test before the new, harder one kicks in.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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