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Educators Worry Revamped GED Will Be Too Pricey

Originally published on Wed November 28, 2012 9:03 am

When Toni Walker is not in Hartford, Conn., serving as a state representative, she can usually be found at the New Haven Adult and Continuing Education Center.

"We basically educate approximately 800 people a day," says Walker, an assistant principal at the center. "It is open enrollment, so when somebody gets an epiphany and says, 'I need to get my high school diploma so that I can get a job,' they can walk through the doors, and they can get [their GED] here."

From 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., the center's classes are packed with people preparing to take the GED test. Steve Cober, a union carpenter for two decades, is one of them. "I come here to try to get my GED to go into ... something different than carpentry. Medical field or something like that," he says.

For years, the GED has offered millions of people like Cober a low-cost second chance at a high school equivalency diploma. The test is updated every decade or so, but some particularly significant changes are planned for 2014.

A Pricier Exam

Last year, the GED Testing Service — part of the nonprofit American Council on Education — announced that it was merging with Pearson, a for-profit British company, and one of the largest educational testing companies in the world.

The merger, the testing service says, would help to generate the money needed to revamp the test. The new assessment will be more rigorous and aligned with Common Core Standards, a set of uniform educational standards now adopted by almost every state. The test will be offered only on computer, and it will cost more.

Fees to take the exam vary by state, says Randy Trask, president of the GED Testing Service.

"Historically, states have chosen to subsidize the GED test; some partially and some in its entirety," Trask says. "The state then chooses what to charge test takers for the test. And the state bears — or has historically born — all of the costs associated with the delivery of that test and the scoring."

In Connecticut, it currently costs $13 to take the GED. The actual price of the exam is closer to $60, but the state subsidizes the balance. The price of the new test, however, will jump to $120. And though Connecticut may pick up the difference for a while, state Rep. Walker says that probably won't last. As a result, she's worried the higher cost will hurt the low-income people the test is supposed to help.

"It is going to be prohibitive ... People come here with pennies and nickels, bringing us change to pay for their GED," Walker says. "So it's going to be a class issue. People who have no money will never be able to actually take the GED."

A Digital Divide

The New Haven Adult and Continuing Education Center has begun to ramp up its computer capabilities to prepare for the online exam. But Walker says the change presents another hurdle to students here: Fewer than 20 percent of them have computers at home.

"So if we don't show them how to use a computer, they're never going to be able to pass the GED, because they won't be able to do it online — and that's the way they're going to be delivering the test," Walker says.

Though the GED is by far America's most popular high school equivalency credential, states are starting to explore other options. New York, for example, has put out a request for proposals to companies that might be able to create an alternative test.

Meanwhile, the new GED is scheduled to replace the current exam in January 2014.

Copyright 2013 Connecticut Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wnpr.org.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

For years, the GED has offered millions of Americans who left high school before getting a diploma a low-cost second chance. Educators pretty much agree it's time for an overhaul of the test but are concerned that the means to do that may price out the people it's designed to help. That's because the testing service has merged with a British media giant that's for profit. Diane Orson of member station WNPR has more.

DIANE ORSON, BYLINE: When Toni Walker is not in Hartford serving as a Connecticut state representative, you usually find her here at New Haven Adult Education, where she's an assistant principal.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE TONI WALKER: We basically educate approximately 800 people a day. It is open enrollment, so when somebody gets an epiphany and says, I need to get my high school diploma so that I can get a job, they can walk through the doors and they can get it here.

ORSON: Classes are packed from 9:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. with people preparing to take the GED test. Steve Cober was a union carpenter for two decades.

STEVE COBER: I come here to try to get my GED to go into a different - something different than carpentry - medical field, something like that.

ORSON: Every decade or so, the test is updated. Last year, the GED Testing Service - part of the non-profit American Council on Education - announced that in order to generate the money needed to revamp the test, it was merging with the for-profit company Pearson, one of the largest educational testing companies in the world.

The new assessment will be more rigorous and aligned with national Common Core standards. It'll be offered only on computer and it'll cost more. Randy Trask, president of the GED Testing Service, says fees to take the exam vary state by state.

RANDY TRASK: Historically, states have chosen to subsidize the GED test, some partially and some in its entirety. The state then chooses what to charge test takers for the test. And the state bears, or has historically borne, all of the costs associated with the delivery of that test and the scoring.

ORSON: In Connecticut, it costs $13 to take the GED. The actual price of the exam is closer to $60, but the state subsidizes the rest. The new test will jump to $120 dollars. And though Connecticut may pay the difference for awhile, State Rep Toni Walker says that probably won't last. She's worried that the higher cost will hurt the low-income people the test is supposed to help.

WALKER: It is going to be prohibitive. When we have $13, people come here with pennies and nickels, bringing us change to pay for their GED. It's going to be a class issue. People who have no money will never be able to actually take the GED.

ORSON: New Haven Adult Education is also a GED testing site and has begun to ramp up its computer capabilities to prepare for the online exam. But Walker says the change presents another hurdle to students here. Fewer than 20 percent of them have computers at home.

WALKER: So if we don't show them how to use a computer, they're never going to be able to pass the GED because they won't be able to do it online. And that's the way they're going to be delivering the test.

ORSON: Though the GED is by far America's most popular high school equivalency credential, states are starting to explore other options. New York has put out a request for proposal to companies that might be able to create an alternative test. Meanwhile, the new GED is scheduled to replace the current exam in January 2014.

For NPR News, I'm Diane Orson in New Haven.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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