Fate of the GED and debate over potentially charging a fee for test takers

By Sonia Lindell

Business, government and education leaders frequently refer to the “skills gap” crisis that exists between the labor force and the nation’s unfilled jobs. This issue is particularly worrisome in relation to the poor performance of GED test-takers in New York. According to data from the Center for an Urban Future, only 58 percent of test-takers passed the exam in 2011, placing New York 49th among all the states.

Simultaneously, the GED Testing Service (a joint venture of the American Council on Education and Pearson LLC) is unveiling a new, computerized, test in 2014. After Jan. 1, 2014, scores from previous GED tests — the five parts can be taken separately — cannot be combined with scores from the new test series.

The GED Testing Service also announced plans to raise the cost of the exam to $120 in 2014, which would subsequently double the cost to the state (Education Law Section 317 prohibits the charging of a fee to take the GED, and currently, the cost of testing is covered in the state budget). New York is one of only four states that do not charge such a fee; the others are Maine, Arkansas and West Virginia.

These factors raise a myriad of questions:

One suggestion for helping individuals better prepare for the test is expanding access to a practice exam.

Another recommendation is charging test takers a fee, which is something New York State did prior to 1994. The logistics of administering the fee at the time, however— dedicated staff was needed to collect the fee and some test candidates received fee waivers—ended up outweighing the cost benefit.

There is no easy answer to the questions above, aside from a general consensus among interested parties that New York’s exceedingly low passage rate for test takers is indicative of a system that needs reform.

On Jan. 15, the Center for an Urban Future and the Schuyler Center of Analysis and Advocacy hosted a conference on the Board of Regents’ plan to consider alternative high school equivalency exams to replace the current standard.

The New York State Education Department has released an RFP for the development of a paper-based and computer-based high school equivalency test, the deadline for which was Jan. 11.

One important consideration — as the Board of Regents considers alternatives—is that the high school equivalency standard must uphold rigorous standards for test takers, especially as colleges and employers currently find that, upon exiting high school, individuals are ill-equipped in terms of both academics and “soft skills,” such as critical thinking. For example, the City University of New York reported that, in fall 2010, 78 percent of students entering community college needed some type of remediation.