State Responses to the New GED

The message from GED-prep organizations, states, and even the GED Testing Service is the same: take the test now. For those preparing for the GED, there are just a couple of years left before 2014, when a major redesign, including a shift to exclusively computerized testing and alignment with more “rigorous” college- and career-readiness standards will be rolled out to coincide with price increases starting that year (or earlier for states administering the computerized version now).

The idea behind the content changes and computerization is that the GED has some significant catching up to do when it comes to meeting the new Common Core State Standards for high school graduates and measuring students’ readiness to enter the workforce and post-secondary education. However, much like the debate around increasing high school completion requirements, the discussion around the creation of a more “rigorous” GED has raised issues of the test’s accessibility and purpose.

Ideally, the changes to the test simply make the GED a more meaningful certificate and increase pathways for test-takers to college and career success; at worst, they risk excluding individuals from jobs and educational opportunities by making it more difficult (academically and financially) to achieve GED completion. Interestingly, the GED Testing Service seems to be positioning the GED as a work-around for the ACCUPLACER, the test currently used by many colleges to determine whether students are prepared to take college-level coursework. If the GED really were able to guarantee its test-takers’ college readiness, it could potentially help alleviate college costs for students who are now required to pay for remedial, non-credit bearing coursework in preparation for college-level work. Of course, someone (students, the states, or the GED Testing Service) would still be required to pay for that education in the form of GED prep, but the concept does offer food for thought.

Most states heavily subsidize the cost of the GED test for students, and computerization of the test, in addition to the changes to the GED price structure, makes it likely that the cost of administering the test will continue to rise in the coming years. Ultimately, states will be forced to make some difficult choices. Will they apportion more money to cover the increased cost of the test? Will they pass along the increases to GED test-takers in general or will they reduce the number of individuals whose GED test will be subsidized?

For test-takers, the coming changes will also mean the expiration of the current version of the GED. The current GED is made up of five sections, and students can choose to study for and pass just one section of the test at a time. Test-takers who have not completed all sections of the GED by the end of 2013 will be forced to start over when the new version of the test comes out. Most states have no time limit for completing all five tests (Rhode Island being one of 14 exceptions), and some test-takers work over multiple months or years before passing all of the components. In other words, the 2013 expiration date on the current GED has additional short-term cost implications for both students starting over with the new test and for the states that subsidize them.

Although it was one of the first states to offer computerized GED testing, Texas is apparently responding to these events by considering a switch to a state-based alternative to the GED exam. The state is not only responding to the substantive and cost changes to the test, but to the recent privatization of the GED Testing Service, which occurred when the non-profit ACE (American Council for Education) brought Pearson VUE on board to design and manage the new GED test. Given its overall preference for independence on educational (and other) issues, it may not be surprising that Texas is considering such a major step. But it isn’t alone – states like New York and Illinois have also floated the possibility of a move away from the GED. The GED has had a virtual monopoly on the high school equivalency industry for the last seven decades, and this is hardly the beginning of the end for the test. But it will be interesting to see which direction states go when it comes to addressing these issues. Given that only about 75% of students in U.S. public high schools persist to graduation, state decisions about the funding and administration of high school equivalency exams have the potential for significant economic and social impact in the coming years.