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New York's Move to Abandon the GED® is a Game Changer

Mar 12, 2013

By Marcie Foster

New York State made headlines last week after it announced it would be dropping the GED® as its high school equivalency exam—a move that can only be defined as a “game changer” in adult education. Instead, the state will be working with CTB/McGraw Hill to develop an alternative exam, the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC), which New York believes will keep costs low and allow its Education Department to continue to serve adults and youth seeking to earn a high school equivalency diploma and gain greater economic mobility. New York’s shift to the TASC is one of the most significant developments in adult education in decades. Since 1942, the GED® has been synonymous with high school equivalency in the U.S. and widely recognized by potential candidates, employers, and postsecondary institutions.

New York State’s Education Department viewed this change as necessary after new sweeping national changes to the current GED® test were announced in 2011. In that year, the GED® Testing Service entered into a partnership with Pearson, the world's largest for-profit testing company, to create a new GED® delivered electronically and aligned with college and career readiness standards. Many in the adult education field viewed the substantive “refresh” as a step in the right direction and recognition of the fact that today’s workers need higher level skills to compete for jobs in a quickly changing economy. However, a number of states and advocates expressed significant concerns that the new cost of the test ($120 plus additional fees for retaking any sections) would pose a barrier to access for the millions of individuals in the U.S. without a high school diploma who are predominately low-income.

But New York had a special problem: state law prohibits charging fees for high school equivalency exams. Currently the state covers GED® testing fees for students, but if the state couldn’t afford to pick up the additional cost of the new test, students would be left un-served.The state’s Education Department estimated that, if it continued to offer the GED® as the primary test, the choice would be either to serve far fewer students or appropriate nearly double the funds that they currently spend on the GED®. Nearly 30,000 New York youth and adults passed the GED® in 2011 (about 450,000 students in the U.S complete annually). According to a statement by the New York State Board of Regents Chancellor, “we can’t let price deny anyone the opportunity for success.” In fact, most states strive to keep the test affordable for students to boost educational attainment and economic growth. In a 2012 survey, fourteen states said they used state funding to keep the GED® affordable to students, and most states that charged a flat fee reported charging less than $75.

The role of the GED® may be changing—rapidly—as states strain to provide the same level of adult education services with smaller and smaller budgets each year. The combination of flat federal funding and across-the-board sequestration, which is estimated to cut nearly $30 million from federal adult education funds, accelerates these state budget troubles. While New York is the first to formally switch to a new test, many states (including New York) are also exploring adopting new high school equivalency options altogether, some of which base diplomas in part on skills attained through work and life experiences as well as through college courses. Wisconsin, Washington, and Minnesota stand out as leaders in this policy space; these efforts are explored in detail in a recent brief from the Working Poor Families Project.

New York’s announcement last week was the first, but it’s unlikely to be the last.  However, as states, programs, and policymakers prepare for the new GED® in 2014 and explore alternatives, the primary consideration should be to maintain access for the nearly 30 million Americans without a high school diploma or its equivalent and ensure that these alternatives support a continued focus on preparation for college and career success, now essential ingredients to economic advancement in the U.S.

 

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