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State may bypass GED Costs, less control over school equivalency exam have state eyeing change

Ohanian Comment: This Pearson takeover of the GED test breaks my heart and enrages my soul. After teaching in New York City, I moved to New Jersey and took charge of the GED prep class for the Neighborhood Youth Corps in Trenton. This experience had a profound influence on my later teaching career. I saw first-hand the problems that lead young people to leave school. I saw the talent unleashed when young people see they have another chance to improve their lives. I'm not talking platitudes here. I'm talking real lives.

I analyzed tests and test takers and decided that I could offer a six-week GED prep course that would produce successful test takers--if they entered the course reading no lower than a 9th grade level. So we set up pre-GED courses for those students with lower reading levels, and I taught a very intense six-week course--five hours a day, five days a week.

I told one young woman, mother of two, who wanted to take my course that she'd have to raise her 8th grade reading level before I would let her into the course. "You have to let me in now," she told me. "I have a temporary job at the state. If I earn my GED, they will hire me permanently. I'll be Civil Service. Do you know what this would mean to me and my kids?"

She told me she'd work hard in my class--harder, she assured me, than I'd ever seen anyone work.

I let her in. I told her the first assignment was to read every chance she got. "You choose the books," I said. "Choose something that interests you and read in every spare minute you can find."

She did it. Every time she came to class she showed me the books she was reading outside of class.

She and I mutually decided that she should stay in the GED course for 12 weeks before attempted the exam. Then, she passed the GED--with one point to spare.

Another student in the GED class went on to get a college degree. She sent me a Christmas card every year, insisting I'd saved her life.

And so on.

We should make alternate paths for obtaining high school diplomas as easy and as affordable as possible. These people don't need more "rigor"; they need more chance for a future.

By Scott Waldman

ALBANY -- The state is considering alternative pathways to the high school equivalency diploma because a new for-profit company that will administer the GED test is planning a substantial cost increase.

Taking and passing the General Education Development test is the primary way adults and young people out of school earn high school equivalency diplomas. In 2011, more than 26,000 New Yorkers earned an equivalency diploma after they passed the test. Another 2,750 people earned the diploma by completing 24 college level credit hours.

All states rely on the GED test as a primary pathway to a high school equivalency diploma, and New York is among those now considering alternatives in the wake of a decision by an educational services company to revamp the exams and increase their cost. New York is one of 16 states considering joining to create a similar comprehensive test with questions taken from their own end-of-year exams, like the Regents exam in New York. Others are considering putting out a request to different vendors to create a new, cheaper exam.

"You always worry about a monopoly," said state Education Commissioner John King. "If a single company is the provider of a product, it makes the state vulnerable."

New York also is consulting with the State University of New York and the City University of New York to see if college placement exams could be used as a GED alternative. Other than the GED test, the only other way to obtain the New York's equivalency diploma, a key step to entering the work force for those who did not finish high school, is by taking the 24 credit hours of college level courses.

One of the new options the state may offer is a local diploma for those over 21 who can demonstrate high school skills and knowledge through their work and other experience.

The General Educational Development tests were developed in 1942 to help returning World War II veterans finish high school studies and reenter civilian life. In 1947, New York was the first to offer the test to civilians. To be eligible, test takers must be at least 16 and not be a high school graduate or enrolled in high school.

The GED consists of a battery of five tests, which take over seven hours to complete. Test takers can take a preparation course or study on their own.

In New York, 60 percent of test takers are over 21 and two-thirds come from metropolitan New York City.

The change is a "radical departure" from the current system, according to Kevin Smith, deputy commissioner for adult career and continuing education services. That's partially because it greatly diminishes the state's role in the process and turns it over to a private company, he wrote in an October memorandum. The test would only be on computer, instead of pencil and paper, which could be a significant hardship for some test takers, according to Smith.

The GED test is the primary way to get a high school equivalency diploma, according to the Department. New York, where 50,000 people a year take the exam, is one of only three states that does not charge for it. Just 58 percent of New Yorkers passed the GED in 2010, one of the lowest rates in the nation.

King said the new test, no matter who develops it, will be more difficult, in keeping with higher academic standards being pushed by the federal government.

Last year, the American Council on Education, which is providing the test through next year, and Pearson Vue Testing, a for-profit company, announced they would create a new, more rigorous GED, which would be administered and provided by a new company, GED Testing Service LLC. The new computer-based test is to be aligned with national common core standards and would replace the current exam in January 2014. New York now administers its own tests at 268 centers, including state prisons, residential facilities and county jails.

GEDTS would administer the new exams and the company would take greater control over the process, authorizing test locations, examiners and test scorers. Currently, only 19 Pearson test sites are operating in New York. The state is concerned that it will not be able to accommodate the surge of applicants who want to take the tests before the current one ends in December 2013.

Company officials have said the new exam would cost substantially more.

The 2012-13 state budget provides $2.71 million to purchase and administer the tests. The current computer-based testing costs $120 for each set of exams, and at that rate the state's cost would more than double to $6 million. King said that price hike could cut the number of test takers.

swaldman@timesunion.com ΓΆ€ΒΆ 518-454-5080 ΓΆ€ΒΆ @518Schools

The GED consists of a battery of five tests, which take over seven hours to complete. Test takers can take a preparation course or study on their own.

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— Scott Waldman
Albany Times Union





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