GED Is Changing at Year’s End, Placing Pressure on Students

There are some big changes in store for the GED and the biggest one enforces a deadline on people who have already started taking the tests for high school equivalency.

Anyone who has taken one or more of the five tests required by the General Education Development program needs to complete the rest of them by Dec. 31, 2013. That’s because a new suite of tests is being developed and will be implemented at the turn of the year, and partial results on the old set of tests will be invalidated.

“You have to start all over again,” said Arthur Ellison, administrator of the Bureau of Adult Education in the New Hampshire Department of Education.

While passing the GED tests is one of the quickest ways to achieve the equivalent of a high school diploma, some people take as long as two years to complete all the tests, said Joan Gallagher, director of the Claremont Adult Learning Center, which administers GED tests.

James Durgin, 34, of Newport, said he’s on track to finish the testing this year, but that a sense of urgency has set in among people preparing in Claremont to take the tests.

“We’re all trying to strive to get it done as quick as we can,” Durgin said. But they all want to make sure they understand the material, too, he added. Like many of his classmates, Durgin is seeking his GED so he can continue his education. He currently works at WalMart, but would like to learn more about mechanical work and culinary arts.

The new GED test is the result of a 2011 merger between the GED Testing Service, part of the nonprofit American Council on Education, and the for-profit Pearson Vue, a British global giant of educational testing. The nonprofit needed to develop a new GED test, the first since 2002, and reached out to Pearson for funding.

The changes involve far more than the creation of a new test. The business of providing high school equivalency tests has been run by the same company since 1942, when the GED was developed to provide servicemen returning from World War II with a relatively quick way to complete high school. To earn equivalency, a GED candidate needs to pass tests in writing, reading, social studies, mathematics and science, typically taking the tests one or two at a time, rather than all in one day.

While the five subject areas will remain unchanged, starting next year, all high school equivalency tests will be aligned with the new Common Core State Standards, which emphasize competencies and critical thinking skills, areas left untouched by the current test.

In addition, despite a competitve marketplace, the cost of taking equivalency tests will increase signficantly, and sooner or later, high school equivalency tests will be offered only on computers.

Last week the New Hampshire Department of Education announced it would contract with the Educational Testing Service to provide a new high school equivalency test, ending the state’s decades-long relationship with the GED Testing Service.

Vermont has opted, for now, to remain with GED, in part because the state offers a “GED certificate,” said Frank Gerdeman, assistant director for secondary and adult education at the Vermont Agency of Education. The certificate “is equal to a diploma,” Gerdeman said.

While New Hampshire is still talking with Educational Testing Service about price, Ellison said he expected the cost to take the entire battery of tests to be $80 to $90. The current cost is $65.

“We’re going to try to keep that as low as possible,” Ellison said.

In Vermont, the increase will be far more dramatic. The tests currently cost $85 and will increase to $120 next year, although Gerdeman said the state has empowered local agencies to issue scholarships and search for other funding to “find a way not to let cost be a barrier to students.” The state also has vocational rehabilitation funding that can be applied to GED testing.

“The truth is that for some students $85 has been a barrier,” he said.

The GED test has national brand recognition, Gerdeman noted. “It has proven to be a good tool in our credentialing arsenal here,” he said.

Unlike New Hampshire, which went through a competitive request-for-proposal process for a new testing regime, Vermont has not done so. Gerdeman said the decision to retain the GED Testing Service was made by a committee within the Agency of Education.

Although Vermont plans to retain its ties to GED, officials might begin to use other tests as well, Gerdeman said.

New Hampshire retained Educational Testing Services in part because it offered both a paper test and a computer-based test. For the next three years, the state will offer both, but will transition to a computer test, Ellison said.

He and others in the state were “not comfortable with putting people in front of a computer for a high-stakes test,” he said. Next year, about 20 percent of testing centers will be offering the tests on computers. “We will have to do a whole lot more on computer literacy,” Ellison said.

In both states, an equivalency test is not the only nontraditional route to a high school equivalency. Vermont also offers a high school completion program for residents ages 16 to 22 and an adult diploma program for people over age 20, both of which are partnerships with local high schools and are free of charge.

New Hampshire also offers adult diploma programs, but those cost $150 a class in Claremont, said Gallagher, the Adult Learning Center director.

With the GED test currently the cheaper and quicker route to a high school credential, Gallagher said the state needs to keep the cost of the test as low as possible. “I know it’s probably going to go up, but we’re all going to try to work on a local level to eliminate that barrier,” she said.

New Hampshire has around 2,500 people take one or more GED tests each year, and about 1,500 receive a GED annually. In Vermont, about 650 to 700 people a year take one or all of the tests, and the number of students in alternative high school programs is now roughly equal to that number, Gerdeman said.

For test takers, the going will get harder next year. The Common Core State Standards, a new K-12 English and math curriculum that has been adopted by 45 states, including all of New England, are more rigorous than the current standards. Ellison said those portions of the new high school equivalency test would likely be “much more difficult.”

“I think all of education is trying to do that,” Gallagher said.

The most pressing issue remains the scheduled transition. This is not a new phenomenon. The last time the GED tests were revamped, in 2002, people who had taken a test or two had to hurry to finish before the new tests took effect.

“I think every state is trying to reach the people who aren’t completed,” Gallagher said. “The big push is to get it done before you lose all your scores.”

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3219.