The New GED Test: Who are the Winners & Losers?

On January 2, 2014, a new version of the GED (General Educational Development) test was published. What changed and what are the results? Let’s answer the second question first. According to this NPR article, the number of graduates declined by 85% since the new test. This is a drop from over 400,000 people passing the test in 2012 to less than 60,000 in 2014. What has changed?

  • They doubled the price from $60 to $120 and partnered with the for-profit Pearson to administer the test.
  • A credit card is the standard form of payment (although they have other options as well).
  • It is now a computer-based test.
  • They changed the standards upon which the test was built, aligning it with the Common Core State Standards.

Advocates for the new test argue that it more accurately represents the standards expected of high schools for a traditional diploma and employers seeking to hire people with a diploma or its equal. Simply looking at the four new features above, there appears to be more to the story.

I’m compelled to return yet again to one of Neil Postman’s important questions for evaluating new “technologies” or innovations. “Who are the winners and losers?” How might we answer that question for this new test? Certainly Pearson has something to gain since this is a new revenue stream for the company. What about employers? Are employers raving about how GED graduates of 2014 are so much more effective on the job than those who earned their GED in previous years? What about the fact that so many fewer GED graduates are available? I suppose there may be some employers out there whose business can handle simply leaving positions vacant until a larger percentage of people can pass the new test and therefore be qualified for employment. Or, they can just hire people with a GED or diploma. More likley is that people who pursued the GED after January 2014 but failed the test are just out of luck. They may be just as qualified at a test-taker from a year earlier, but they get passed over for the job because they don’t meet the minimum requirements.

That brings us to thinking about who the losers are with this new test. The people who don’t pass are an obvious group that fits into this category. Before I even get to the test itself, I’ll start with the payment system. A credit card is the seemingly standard and expected method, although they do accommodate other options. Yet, even the payment process has been complicated with this new test. Why put any unnecessary barriers in front of students? How is this new payment system designed to represent the best interest of these students?

Now to the impact of failing this test. If people don’t pass it, they have fewer opportunities available to them. What happens to people without a high school diploma or GED? While I respect the caution of confusing correlation with causation, people without a GED or diploma are more likely to be unemployed, imprisoned, and/or stuck in a cycle of poverty. We can dismiss these realities by explaining how we must maintain high standards and “academic rigor” through this new GED, but this is not about maintaining. They raised the bar, and to the best of knowledge, they did so without any substantive body of research as to how this will produce greater social good, better benefit the well-being of people in GED programs, or even benefit the employers of people with a high school diploma or GED. Simply saying that these new standards will produce more capable employees is not adequate. Show me the evidence. Look at the types of skills required of people in jobs with a prerequisite of a GED or high school diploma but no higher credential. Show, through a workforce skills assessment, that the old test inadequately prepared people for those jobs, while the new test does. That will at least help me reconsider my position.

This is too massive of a shift of to just guess or even lean on what some claim to be common sense. There are too many complexities, too many people’s life situations at stake, and too little hard data to support the decision. If we really wanted to pursue such a development without such massive potential negative implications, I have another simple suggestion, one that was overlooked or disregarded. Why not design a test that is based upon both the 2013 and 2014 standards, making those who meet or exceed the 2014 standards as graduates with an honors GED and the others with a standards GED? This way we  are raising the bar without using a nation of GED students as guinea pigs.

Yet, that is not what people did. They changed everything overnight and have done little to address some of the potential harm inflicted on people and society. As a result, some states have abandoned this test as a requirements for a GED, opting for alternatives and deviating from what was previously a standard GED test for over 60 years. I guess if you are doubling the price for the test, you can handle losing half your customers.