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GED Overhaul Raises Profit-Making Questions

Judging from the traffic on our website, many people are interested in the redesign of the GED, the biggest revamping the test has undergone in its history.

With the interest come questions. In the comments section, and my email inbox, I'm hearing concern about the for-profit arrangement created to oversee the redesign. (As has been widely reported in EdWeek and elsewhere, the American Council on Education, the nonprofit that originated the GED, teamed up with Pearson to do that work.)

In a document answering questions about the partnership, the GED Testing Service explains that reworking the GED system required greater resources than the ACE could manage on its own.

"The investments necessary to increase the speed and amplitude of our response to the growing problem called for outside-the-box thinking," the joint venture says. "This work could no longer be considered the exclusive domain of nonprofit organizations and the government if real results were to be attained."

The ACE, in short, needed Pearson's "leading technology and test-administration expertise," the document says. Pearson's Randy Trask told the Chronicle of Higher Education that the company "could not sit on the sidelines" during such a potentially important project. The ACE's gross revenue from the GED Testing Service exceeded $17 million last year, according to the Chronicle.

The for-profit element in the partnership drew the notice of The Washington Monthly, which remarked that "the potential to make money has been an unqualified success" in efforts to improve education.

Texas Monthly included the ACE/Pearson partnership when it did a major piece exploring concerns about Pearson's reach in that state—and what one lobbyist quoted in the story called the "business education complex."

I asked the GED Testing Service whether the profit-making element of the arrangement raises questions about the new GED. Its executive vice president, Nicole Chestang, said in an email that the joint ownership and governance, by the ACE and Pearson, "allows GED Testing Service to deliver on its mission to help prepare more adults for college and careers." Because revamping the test as well as preparation materials and other supports was "monumental," she said, the ACE couldn't do it alone and needed a strategic partner.

I asked for a description of the profit-making arrangement, but no answer to that question was included in the company's response.

I also asked if the company anticipated a change in the price of the new GED in 2014, either for those who take the tests, or for states, which lease it from the GED Testing Service. Chestang said that it was too early to know whether the price would change, but said the company recognized the importance of keeping "costs lean and the test accessible."

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