GED test will be thing of the past after this year; new exam expected to be harder

LACONIA — Granite State residents interested in obtaining a high school diploma without taking the traditional path will be looking at significant changes to the equivalency test now that the state has chosen a new company to take over the process.
Gone in January of 2014 is the traditional GED — at least for New Hampshire's students.
In its place will be a test developed by ETS, or Educational Testing Service, that will determine if an individual has the skills and knowledge to have the equivalent of a high school diploma.
The GED, said Laconia Adult Eduction Director Peggy Selig, was developed in the post WW II era so soldiers who lied about their ages or dropped out of high school to join the military and were too old to finish high school upon their return could take a test and move on with their lives.
"We know that the new test will be much harder," said Selig, who said Laconia is in a state of limbo right now because no one has seen the test that will be offered in 2014.
"We kind of know where we're heading," she said, noting the new high school equivalency test will have more expository writing, more critical thinking, and more inference. "You're going to have to come in with some knowledge."
The reason for the recent change in New Hampshire and in many other states is two-fold — one was the American Council on Education (ACE) and its desire to upgrade the GED test. The second was money.
State Adult Education Director Art Ellison explained the first: he said the ACE knew the test needed to be upgraded because it had been the same since 2002 and the non-profit company didn't have the money to do it. He said the decision was made to put it out into the private market, explaining the second driver.
The American Council on Eduction owned GED Testing Services and produced the equivalency test for about 70 years, according to The Wall Street Journal. About two years ago ACE put itself and its trademark GED up for sale or merger and British publishing giant Pearson, VUE came to the table to create a for-profit test.
Pearson is the parent company of Penguin Publishing as well as one of the largest electronic test companies in the world. It now owns the trademark GED — as common in America as the trademark names of Scotch tape and Kleenex.
The problem for New Hampshire and many other states, said Ellison, is the Pearson-VUE GED is computer-based and twice as expensive. The estimated cost of the test for its takers would go from $65 to $120 and Ellison said many test takers struggle to come up with the $65.
Ellison said as news of the new paperless test and its cost became more well known, many states created work groups to see if there was another option. Publisher McGraw-Hill and ETS began developing their own tests and in early March, New York State became the first state to drop the Pearson-VUE owned GED, closely followed with Montana and New Hampshire.
"I think Pearson thought it was buying a cash cow but now that may not be true," said Selig.
After issuing a request for proposal — or RPF — and deciding between all three companies, Ellison said on March 20 the New Hampshire Board of Education chose ETS. He said one of the caveats to the RFP was there be a paper option and though Pearson-GED bid for the contract, with no paper choice it didn't meet the criteria of the proposal.
ETS is also well known in the education community. The not-for-profit company was founded in 1947 and, among other things, owns GRE (Graduate Record Examinations), the SATs and the PRAXIS series that tests non-English speakers for proficiency throughout the world.
He said the bid price from Educational Testing Service was estimated to be $50 per test and New Hampshire residents took about 1,500 equivalency tests in 2012. Ellison said that will keep the cost of their test to its takers at the same or similar price.
Selig said ETS offered both a computer and a written test in its proposal but for the time being Laconia will stick with paper-only tests. She noted the tests as proposed from Pearson were so proprietary and top-secret that testing centers would have had to install computer surveillance that would have cost $4,000 in Laconia alone.
"I don't have that money in my budget," she said.
In New England, Ellison said Maine chose to go with  Pearson-VUE for one year and develop a bidding process similar to that of New Hamphire's, Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut  went with Pearson-VUE and Massachusetts is preparing a RFP similar to the one in New Hampshire.
Regardless, it spells big changes in the hig school equivalency test.
"This is a new generation for high school equivalency," Selig said. "My advice, sign up and take the equivalency test now — before it changes."
Laconia Adult Education has one GED-equivalency test date planned for December of 2013, before the test goes away in 2014. The GED course preceding the test is offered beginning in September.