Concerns About the Redesign of the GED

Catherine Gewertz wrote a lengthy piece in this week’s Education Week about the planned redesign of the GED. The piece does a good job explaining, from the perspective of the GED Testing Service, and others, why extensive changes are being planned. Meanwhile, over at the D.C. LEARNs blog, Ben Merrion does a nice job summarizing the potential positives and the potential concerns over these changes for adult education programs to consider.

Judging by the comments made on Gewertz’s piece, a lot of people have concerns about the redesign, some of which she addressed in a blog entry Tuesday — mainly the concern about the for-profit arrangement created to oversee the redesign. Gewertz wrote in her original article that the redesign effort was a “joint venture of the American Council on Education, or ACE, which created the GED, and the education publishing giant Pearson.” What was not clear from that statement is that ACE and Pearson are transitioning the GED testing service from a nonprofit to a for-profit business.

When I read the original article, a couple of additional comments/questions came to my mind:

First, the article notes that the redesign will require “overhauling professional development for GED teachers, reworking curricula, and adding strong counseling supports to help students pass and plan their next steps.” The article does not, however, discuss the financial challenges that this could pose for GED instructional programs, especially at a time when many programs are experiencing severe cuts in state and private funding. Federal funding for adult education has remained basically flat for a over a decade. There are plenty of programs that would like to add a strong counseling component right now, for example, but don’t have the resources to do it.

Secondly, I was also surprised that the original article did not discuss the concerns that have been raised about the potential additional cost of taking the new GED.

Gewertz writes in her follow-up blog post:

I also asked if the company anticipated a change in the price of the new GED in 2014, either for those who take the tests, or for states, which lease it from the GED Testing Service. [GED Testing Service Executive Vice President, Nicole] Chestang said that it was too early to know whether the price would change, but said the company recognized the importance of keeping “costs lean and the test accessible.”

It looks to me, though, that a lot of folks have been operating over the last several months under the assumption that increased test fees are inevitable, and they attribute it to the merger with Pearson and/or to the shift to computer-based testing:

Prices are expected to increase to as much as $125 by 2014, when a new, more challenging version of the GED test is scheduled to debut.

Changes to GED testing spur worry (The Virginian Pilot)

According to the Technical College System of Georgia, testing rates are increasing because of an increase in costs from the national test administrator, a public-private combination of the ACE and Pearson.

Cost of GED testing to rise (The Haralson Gateway-Beacon, Georgia)

As part of a planned overhaul, the testing service could increase the test fee from $65 to as much as $200 when the test eventually moves online.

GED test price increase worries, angers some (WSMV – News Channel 4, Tennessee)

Last question: In her original piece, Gewertz wrote that “[Nicholas S.] Mader and others who study the GED worry that making it easily available to 16- to-18-year-olds induces dropouts by offering a quicker, easier alternative. The GED Testing Service recognizes that risk, said spokesman CT Turner.”

Does anyone know if there any evidence that this is true? I do think that it’s possible that some kids struggling in school (and their parents) might think that obtaining a GED is a better option than staying in school, but that’s different from saying that they view it as a shortcut. At D.C. LEARNs, we used to get calls from parents asking about this. From what I can remember, it was always because they were looking for a way out of a horrible school situation — violence, bullying, lack of attention to a learning challenge from teachers and administrators, etc. Parents sometimes wanted to get heir kids out of an enviroment that they thought was harmful. In other words, consideration of the option to drop out and study for the GED was in response to a difficult situation at school, not an effort to find an “easier alternative” to graduation. (Our policy was to always urge kids to stay in school, in case you were wondering.)

I also think most kids have some vague awareness that getting a GED may not have the same value as getting a high school diploma. But again, some may view it as a better option than staying in school.

Maybe my experience is unusual, but it sure would be useful to know whether there is data to support Mader’s contention. (I haven’t read all of the papers cited in this article so maybe it’s in one of those, but if so, it’s odd that it’s not cited in the context of this paragraph.)