States drop GED: At $120 a pop, some say test is just too expensive

States drop GED, which will be available in the future only on computer. It's a historic shift away from the test that set the standard for high school equivalency certification for more than 70 years.

Orlin Wagner/AP
Deni Loving teaches a GED class in Kansas City, Mo., on April 11. 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.

States are dropping the GED for alternative high school equivalency tests out of concern that the new computerized iteration, to be launched in January, is too expensive.

The General Education Development exam has been synonymous with high school equivalency certification since 1942, when it was created to help veterans returning from World War II. States are ultimately responsible for awarding diplomas, but they have relied on the GED for testing.

However, a new version of the GED, which will be offered only on computers and will cost $120 (double the current price), has prompted states to seek alternative tests from competing education companies.

“The national situation is definitely fluid,” Tom Robbins, Missouri’s director of adult education and high school equivalency, told the Associated Press

New York became the first state to contract with a new company its high school equivalency exam. In March, it awarded a three-year, $8.4 million contract to CTB/McGraw Hill, which created the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC), reported The Wall Street Journal.

Montana and New Hampshire have also switched to a new exam offered by Education Testing Service, the company that developed and administers the GRE and TOEFL exams, which will cost $50 to $60. The new High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) will launch in January, according to the ETS website. Cost influenced both states' decisions, with Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau saying 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,” reported the Associated Press.

Several other states are researching their options, reports AP. The California Department of Education is considering whether to amend regulations that the state use only the GED test, while Tennessee and New Jersey are looking into offering more than one test. Missouri requested bids from test makers, planning to make a decision this month. And other states, including Massachusetts, Maine, Indiana, and Iowa, are planning to request information, said AP.

“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, in an interview with the Associated Press.

In some states, the test-takers pay to take the test. In others, states subsidize all or part of the costs of test-taking, so that residents wanting to earn their high school degrees are not deterred by an inability to pay.

Officials in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia said they are sticking with the GED for now, because alternative tests may not be immediately recognized by colleges and employers.

“It was difficult to really look at these other options when you have someone who is already tried and true,” Susan Clair, director of Virginia’s Office of Adult Education and Literacy, told the Washington Post.

Virginia participated in a pilot program that offered the computerized version of the GED test, and early feedback shows people completing the exam quicker and passing at a higher rate, said Debbie Bergtholdt, Virginia’s GED administrator, to the Post.

The new test is designed “to embrace the college- and career-readiness standards” that states have been adopting, Randy Trask, president of GED Testing Service in Washington, told the Monitor in January. It is also being adapted to reflect the tougher math and reading standards that states are adopting.

“I personally went into it a little bit naively,” Mr. Trask said of the new version, according to AP. “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.”

But the option for different exams is “the new reality of adult education,” Art Ellison, who leads the Bureau of Adult Education in New Hampshire, told the Associated Press. He said the paper option is important because some adults lack the skills needed to take a computer-based test.

In Kansas City, Mo., Nicole Williams told the Associated Press she hoped to pass her GED this year before the new version goes into effect because “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.”

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