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Testing Volume Down With Rollout of New High School Equivalency Exams

It's been one year since the big shake up in the high school-equivalency exam market and, as anticipated, fewer students are taking and passing the more rigorous tests.

GED Testing Service, which offers the General Educational Development test in 40 states, reports about a 60 percent passing rate for students taking all four sections of its new computer-based test. The last time the test was revamped, in 2002, the passing rate was about 70 percent, according to C.T. Turner, a spokesperson for GED Testing Service, now a joint venture between the publishing company Pearson and the nonprofit American Council on Education.  

The new GED, launched in January of 2014, was designed to be more challenging, with questions that focus on critical thinking and better reflect new standards for career and college readiness.

Prior to the new test, in a typical year, GED passing rates are about 65-67 percent, Turner said.

This year scores are lower, in part because students can no longer earn lower scores in one subject and make up points in another subject, explained Turner in an email. With the new exam, participants must meet the basic high school-equivalency in each of the subjects to pass.  If the compensatory model was used, as in the past, it is anticipated the rate would be closer to 70 percent.

About 248,000 students took the new GED in 2014, according to preliminary data. In a rush to take the test before it was revised, testing volume spiked to about 816,000 in 2013. In the past few years, test-taking volume has hovered around 700,000 to 750,000. In about the past decade, there has been a 50 percent decline in GED test taking, Turner noted.

When ACE announced the new partnership with Pearson and rollout of a more difficult, computer-based test with a higher price tag ($120), other competitors entered the market.

(See "New GED Tests Stir Concern, Draws Competitors.")

CTB/McGraw-Hill developed the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC) and the Educational Testing Service and Iowa Testing Programs introduced the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) last year.

TASC is now given exclusively in New York, Indiana, and West Virginia. It is an option in California, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wyoming. Officials are not releasing statistics on test-taking patterns for 2014, but expect to begin reporting by the end of 2015.

Last year, about 50,000 people took the HiSET, which is now offered in 14 states, according to ETS. The national passing average for the full battery of tests was 62 percent. HiSET is the only test offered in New Hampshire, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Maine, Massachusetts, and Missouri. It is optional in  California,  Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Tennessee, Wyoming. 

GED's Turner noted that eight of the GED states also offered either TASC and HiSET. In those states, many students took the alternative tests, leading to a large drop in GED volume. For instance, in Tennessee just 4,900 students took the new GED last year, while about 14,000 do in a typical testing year. New Jersey had just 5,200 test takers for the GED in 2014, compared to usual volume of about 13,500.

Art Ellison, who oversees the state's adult education programs in New Hampshire, says officials were expecting a drop in test taking this year. His state now only administers the HiSET and 775 passed the exam this year, compared to about 2,000 who passed the GED in 2013 and 1,500 in 2012. While the GED passing rate was typically 82 percent, while the overall passing rate for the new HISET last year was about 78 percent.  The cost of the HiSET in New Hampshire was $30 and students had the option of taking it on computer or with paper and pencil.

The GED was also revamped in 1978, 1988, and 2002. Historically, in the year prior to a new test participation increases and there is a drop in test-taking volume following the launch.

Last year was a transition and many adult learners decided to stay at home or do nothing, said Turner. "Every indicator shows that numbers will expand next year across the states," he said.

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