GED Test Going Digital at Nearly Double the Cost
July 23, 2013 | USA Today | Link to article
Twice each day, about a dozen students who never finished high school study together in the back room of Southeast Ministry in Washington, D.C.
It's not a typical classroom - a couple of long tables, a dry-erase board hidden in one corner and a bookshelf in the other - but for more than 20 years, it's been home to classes that prepare adults to take the GED and achieve high school equivalency certificates they need to land jobs and further their educations.
"You've got to have a high school diploma or a GED to get a job, even to get a McDonald's job," said Dale Palmer, a Southeast Ministry student who left high school more than 25 years ago. "It was time for me to get it."
But Palmer, his classmates and hundreds of thousands of other adults across the country soon will face new roadblocks in pursuing their GEDs. Come Jan. 1, an overhaul of the nation's leading high school equivalency program will make the test more difficult and will nearly double the cost to test takers in most states.
The switch to a new test worries students like India Clegg, who fears it will be tougher than ever to pass, further delaying her job opportunities.
"We're already trying to cram in four years of education," Clegg said. "Now you're trying to cram in more."
The changes to the exam are part of an attempt by the GED Testing Service to standardize its program throughout the United States and bring its high school equivalency requirements up to the level achieved by traditional high school graduates.
"We can't hold adults to a different standard than we're holding high school students to," said Randy Trask, president and CEO of GED Testing Service. "The nation's high schools are all undergoing a major transformation for college readiness, and the GED has to keep pace with that."
In doing so, the non-profit testing service has eliminated the paper-and-pencil version of the test and partnered with education giant Pearson VUE to create a computer-based exam.
The new test will be brought up to Common Core State Standards, a K-12 curriculum used in 45 states and Washington, D.C., according to the Common Core State Standards website. It will also incorporate five new types of questions aimed at testing problem-solving skills as well as more advanced content.
The test will cost about $120 in most states, assuming students pass all four parts in their first attempt. That's about a 70% price hike from the current paper-and-pencil test, which costs about $70 on average, according to a USA TODAY survey of 36 state agencies.
"While $120 may not seem like a lot to some of us, it represents a significant portion of student wages who are in this population," said Marcy Foster, a workforce development policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy. "We're talking about students who don't have secondary school credentials."
Full-time workers who haven't graduated from high school make an average of $457 per week, 42% less than those with a high school diploma or equivalency but no college.
Southeast Ministry Executive Director Valarie Ashley said even a $50 test fee can be prohibitive to low-income and unemployed students who have to prioritize rent, food and transportation expenses.
"That $50 becomes expendable really quickly," she said.
Although she said the Washington, D.C., government hasn't yet announced the 2014 GED cost, Ashley is trying to budget well in advance. She said the ministry plans to continue paying for students' tests, but other programs could get the ax.
"The issue is what are the other kinds of things we'd have to cut to allow us to continue doing that," Ashley said. "Does that mean we provide for fewer people or set up more stringent guidelines around who we support?"
Students in a few states will see little or no change in GED costs. In Maryland, the state will continue to subsidize the GED, charging students $45 each for the entire test battery. Colorado and Washington will not increase their test costs, although they were already charging among the nation's highest fees at $150.
Others will see a big jump: North Carolinians will pay $120, more than triple the current paper-and-pencil GED cost of $35. And Foster and others worry that more cost hikes are coming, particularly because Pearson VUE is a for-profit company.
Meanwhile, competitors are starting to move in. Some states are moving away from the GED program entirely in favor of new options that better fit their needs.
A group of states recently approached Educational Testing Service, the creator of the SAT college admission test, to build an alternative.
The result was HiSET, which will be available as both a paper-and-pencil and computer-based test. It's cheaper than the GED and has already attracted four states - Montana, New Hampshire, Missouri and Tennessee - with proposals from a few others, HiSET Director Amy Riker said.
Some states, like New Jersey and Wyoming, intend to offer multiple paths to high school equivalency, including the GED, HiSET and other tests.
"Our entire statute is now based on never again allowing there to be a single point of failure for this vital program," said Troy Tallabas, Wyoming's high school equivalency program manager. "We will have multiple assessments and are even considering alternative pathways to the credential."
Regardless of the direction states choose to go, students have until the end of this year to finish the existing GED testing process, which allows them to retake sections of the test until they pass each one. Some states are offering limited-time test discounts, and the GED Testing Service is running a campaign to encourage students to finish before year's end.
Adrianne Flowers, who left high school at age 16 and has been attending classes at Southeast Ministry off and on for about five years, has her sights set on a late-July practice test. If she passes, she'll be able to start the testing process for the actual GED.
"This test coming up, I'm going to ace this," she said. "When I graduate, I'll make sure my kids are there so I could say I did this for my kids."