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GED Program to Phase In Computer-Based Testing

GED testing centers in four states will begin offering the option of taking the high school equivalency exam via computer this spring.

That was one of the tidbits reporters learned yesterday in a conference call with folks from the American Council on Education, which administers the GED.

The ACE's plan to revamp the exam has been known for some time; it was originally slated to come out in 2012, but that plan was delayed so the test could be aligned to the common standards that have now been adopted by all but seven states. The new test is now slated for 2014.

Additional details previewed for reporters yesterday included the fact that ACE is partnering with Pearson to develop the new test. I asked how the material on the new exam would differ from that on the current one. Nicole Chestang, the executive director of the GED Testing Service, said that was still being figured out, but that the new exam will "track with" trends in increasingly rigorous standards. Randy Trask, senior vice president at Pearson, did drop one interesting tidbit: that the new test will likely include performance items (questions that can't be answered just by filling in a bubble).

Some of the testing centers in Georgia, California, Texas, and Florida will begin offering the option of taking the test by computer in April or May, Chestang said. The ACE hopes to have the computer-based option available in 11 states by the end of the year and to keep expanding well into 2013. Officials emphasized that the computer option will be in addition to—not instead of—the current paper-and-pencil format. That approach will eventually be phased out, they said, but not right away. They also emphasized that a computer-based option doesn't mean the test can be taken at home, online; it has to be proctored in a GED testing center.

Even as computer-based testing is phased in, those taking the test will still be taking the 2002 version. The reworked version will not be out until 2014.

In addition to reworking the test and rolling out the computer-based option, the ACE and Pearson plan to offer a national GED exam preparation program and create a "transition network" of counseling and other services to link those taking the GED with career and postsecondary options, officials said. New York City's District 79 announced last December that it is piloting an "accelerated learning program" to prepare young adults for the GED and for careers and college.

By undertaking a major reworking of the GED, the ACE and Pearson hope to reach more people who could benefit from the pathway it offers to jobs and postsecondary education, said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad. Chestang said the ACE wants to "erase the question from anyone's mind that the GED is equivalent in every way to a high school diploma."

"Pretty much you can go anywhere a diploma holder can go," she said.

I asked for numbers detailing what portion of GED passers go on to enroll in four-year colleges, two-year colleges, and certificate or training programs. But ACE officials didn't have all those numbers broken down. An ACE report from last year, "Crossing the Bridge," (which we wrote about when it came out), showed that 43 percent of GED passers went on to pursue some form of postsecondary education within six years. But that includes all the above options. The only breakdown we are given is this: Of those who pass the GED and go on to postsecondary, three quarters choose options of two or or fewer years.

Table 13, on Page 25 of the report, gets at a different face of this idea: not where GED passers enroll, but where they obtain their certificates or degrees. The biggest chunk (47.5 percent) are associate's degrees. One-quarter are bachelor's degrees. (Keep in mind that this considers only the GED passers who complete a postsecondary option. The report tells us clearly, and lamentably, that completion rates among GED passers are low; only half return for a second semester.)

Reworking the GED and its attendant supports is aimed at boosting the number of those who use the exam as a pole vault into something that will offer them a viable and rewarding way of life. With research telling us that each higher level of education carries greater potential earnings, the power of a new GED to improve young adults' futures will be something worth watching.

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