The World Did Not End on January 1st

I get the feeling from talking to reporters covering the GED revamp that some are working under the assumption that the entire adult education system is in the process of imploding in the wake of the official launch of the new test at the start of the year.

The GED test has typically undergone a revision every decade or so. True, the 2014 changes, particularly the switch to a computer-only exam, and the increase in the cost, are likely to have more dramatic effects than previous revisions, but those effects are going to roll out gradually over the course of the next few years. We don’t know yet, for example, the extent to which computer-based testing will be a barrier for some who want to take the test, and we won’t really know—beyond individual anecdotes—until the new exam has been in place for a few years. In the short terms, there will be plenty of individual stories suggesting that the critics are right, and also many success stories (you can count on the GED Testing Service publicizing the success stories!)—but until we can study overall trends over a period of at least a few years, I would caution people from drawing broad conclusions from individual stories. (Not that I think we should ignore the stories—I’m definitely going to keep passing them along—I just think we need to understand the limitations this kind of evidence.)

We also won’t know for a while whether the efforts to align test content with new common academic standards for high schools is making much of difference to adult leaners, or providing more value to the high school credentials they earn by virtue of passing one of these exams. Reporters need to be skeptical of claims made by anyone before a reasonable amount of data is in. That holds true not just for the GED folks, but their competitors as well: CTB/McGraw-Hill’s TASC exam, and the Educational Testing Service’s HiSET.

I’ve been critical of the GED Testing Service’s rollout of the new test. Early on, I think even they would agree that communication with state adult education offices and the field was not great. I worry about how the switch from a non-profit business model to a for-profit business model in a marketplace with limited resources is going to work. The GED Testing Service’s aggressive marketing campaign has been, at best, an odd fit in the adult education world. I’m dubious about claims made by computer-based testing proponents that preparing for a computer-based exam provides learners with “real-world” computer skills much beyond the skills required to take a test on a computer—again, until more evidence is in. I’m definitely worried about imposing unnecessary barriers to adult learners without evidence that the benefits justify it. And I’m not immune to making dire predictions—if you comb the archives of this blog, you’ll surely find some. But I’m also not dismissing what teachers and others who have been working diligently over the last year to make this adjustment are saying—some are quite effusive in their praise of the new test and feel that the switch to computer-based is the way to go.

The point is, we have a long way to go before we know much about the impact of all these changes. I hope reporters who have jumped on this story looking for disaster this month will return in a year or two to look at what has actually unfolded.