Re-writing the GED test

June 4, 2012

By Laurie Stern

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Ericka Coleman remembers seeing a sign about General Educational Development (GED) classes at the library near her house in St. Paul, Minn.

The 21-year-old dropped out of high school in one year shy of graduation to take care of her family. Now that things are more stable at home, Coleman can shift focus back to her future.

“I didn’t even know what a GED was and I sure didn’t think it was anything good,” Coleman said. “I talked to people and found out it’s almost like getting a high school diploma. You can still go to college or get a job.”

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Coleman wants to do both. She imagines working at a hospital while she studies to be a nurse. She already passed the GED reading test. She has math, social studies, science and writing to go. She’s tackling one subject at a time. But she’s worried about a looming deadline.

“If you don’t finish your tests by Dec. 31 of next year, you have to start all over again,” Coleman said.

She’s right. The old GED test is being retired for good.

The 72-year-old exam is being overhauled. Employers and educators say the current test does a poor job evaluating the skills that employees and college students need. The new version debuts in 2014.

Randy Trask, the president and CEO of the GED Testing Service, says the new test will evaluate critical thinking skills. The GED Testing Service is the developer and distributor of the test.

It is aligned with the rigorous new Common Core teaching standards for K-12 education that have been adopted by 45 states.

“There’s a direct correlation between what high school and the GED test will measure, and the skills, knowledge and abilities necessary to do well in college and the workforce,” Trask said.

In addition to measuring high school equivalency, there will be a new threshold of passing. Students can earn an endorsement that says they’re ready to work or, if they score better, a certificate that says they’re ready for college.

Educators are raising graduation standards in an effort to keep Americans competitive in the global economy. They are also trying to keep young people in school. An estimated 7,000 Americans drop out every day.

“Every year, the number of people without a high school diploma grows,” Trask said. “We have to do things differently.”

Professionals who work with adult learners agree the old test is outdated.

“If we change what you have to learn to attain that credential, people will rise to that,” said Pam Ampferer, a GED instructor at the Ronald M. Hubbs Center for Lifelong Learning in St. Paul.

Ampferer is more concerned about the new format. Starting in 2014, the GED will only be administered on computers. The test can only be taken at official GED testing centers. The GED test cannot be taken online. Registration, scheduling and test scores will be available online.

Ampferer says the new test may leave behind students who don’t have computer skills. Most Hubbs Center students are poor and many are not native English-speakers.

“I want to know if they understand who our population is,” said Kristine Halling, supervisor at the Hubbs Center. 

As test designers work on data collection and online registration, test-takers face obstacles like babysitters who don’t show up, and cars that break down.

Halling is also concerned about the cost of retooling for the new test.  The Hubbs Center will have to invest scarce dollars installing proprietary software and training teachers to use the new curricula.

“Students will need digital literacy skills,” Halling said.  “We’re working hard to make sure the technology piece isn’t going to slow them down.”

Correction: The original text piece inaccurately reported the acronym for GED. It stands for General Educational Development.

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