There’s a good article in a recent edition of Crain’s New York Business for those interested in the changes coming in 2014 to the General Education Development test (more widely known as the GED), which I’ve previously written about here, and here. Not a lot of new information—but some interesting perspective from state officials in New York, and some interesting quotes from officials at the GED Testing Service, now a for-profit venture headed up by the British media company Pearson. A lot of the concern over the increased cost of the revamped test is coming out of New York because it is one of the only states in the country that prohibits charging fees to people who take the test—many states subsidize the costs to some degree, but in New York, the state picks up the full cost. According to the article, this will require New York taxpayers to pony up an additional $3 million annually to cover the anticipated increase in the cost of the assessment.
Interestingly, the President of the GE Testing Service, Randall Trask, told Crain’s that not only should New York change the law that prohibits test-takers from paying a fee—in other words, that they should pass the cost increase onto the test-takers, not the taxpayers—but that doing so will “make the test more widely available.” New York officials think the price hike will make the exam less accessible. They have tried to convince the GED Testing Service to rethink the fee increase and delay the release of the new exam, but told Crain’s they haven’t been able to get them to budge.
Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, which partners with Pearson on the for-profit venture, was really pushing the idea that the current test is out of date—so woefully out of date, in fact, that she comes close to suggesting that denying people access to the new assessment one second longer than necessary is going to leave them destitute:
“The existing test is so out of date that we need to make available at the earliest possible time the kind of examination that will prepare folks for work and college,” she said. “Putting it off only results in another generation of individuals denied the opportunity to prepare for jobs that will allow them to support their families. This is an issue of crisis for our country, so we wanted to move as quickly as we possibly could.”
But later in the article, Kevin Smith, the New York Deputy Commissioner for Adult Career and Continuing Education Services, calls the January 2014 deadline “arbitrary.”
The article claims that as many as 25 state are looking into the possibility of dropping the GED altogether, including possibly California, which is “weighing its options.” If Pearson loses the New York and California market, would the GED still be viable as a for-profit venture?
On the other hand, switching over to a different assessment may prove just as difficult. While I know at least one state director of adult education who is confident that a new assessment could be ready to go as an option to the GED by January of 2014, I also know that sometimes state directors underestimate the amount of work required at the program level to implement major systematic changes, including the professional development that could be needed to re-train teachers on how to help prepare people for a new test:
“Pursuing alternative pathways is important, but we are racing the clock,” said Sierra Stoneman-Bell, co-director of the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition. “With only 16 months to go, there is no clear plan for New York to transition to the new GED test or alternative assessments.”
Kevin Smith told Crain’s that “[w]e do have some viable alternatives, but our concern is whether those alternatives can get up and running because of the arbitrary time frame created by GED Testing Service,” and warns that if January 2014 rolls around and there are no viable options, including the GED, “there will be a political and public relations maelstrom that will not be pretty.”
Just like the “fiscal cliff” that is looming in January of 2103 for the federal budget due to sequestration, the U.S. adult education system seems to be headed for a credential cliff* in January of 2014. Kevin is right: like sequestration, the GED deadline is clearly arbitrary—and avoidable. I can’t find a source anywhere that makes the case that hitting the pause button on this thing is going to hurt anyone (although I recognize it will probably cost Pierson a lot of money), but it appears that in some parts of the country, at least, that there is a growing risk that the switch may make it more difficult for some adults to access high-school equivalent credentials, if only because states aren’t ready for it. This isn’t a question of whether the new assessment is an improvement, or is necessary—it’s a question of how you introduce a dramatic change in a marketplace that is not equipped to adapt quickly. The GED Testing Service seems to be putting a lot of effort into winning the PR war (and also, to be fair, putting a lot of effort in assisting states to make the transition); hopefully, behind the scenes, they are working even harder to negotiate some kind of compromise with the states that will make this feel more like a leap forward than a drop off a cliff.
(h/t David Rosen)