GED exam retiring after seven decades

After seven decades the state is preparing to replace the GED test, which students and adults have tackled for generations to earn an alternative credential to a high school diploma.

The GED exam — it stands for General Educational Development — has been part of Louisiana’s vocabulary since 1942.

“The GED was pretty much the sole source for the entire country, even internationally,” said Sean Martin, executive director of Work Ready U, the state’s adult education network.

Students from age 18 to 65 have pursued the credential as a way to boost their college and career prospects.

GED officials say 96 percent of employers accepted the certificate as an equal to a high school diploma, as did 95 percent of colleges and universities did so.

Between 10,000 and 12,000 people take the test annually in Louisiana.

But starting in January students here will take a different exam.

A division of Educational Testing Service — called HiSET — will start administering its own high school equivalency test on English, math, science and other areas.

One key reason for the change, Martin said, is because GED officials will soon be offering computer-only tests.

The state has about 600,000 residents age 18 and older who lack a high school diploma or equivalency credential.

Officials were leery of any makeover that might raise new impediments toward trimming that figure.

“We did not feel we were in a position to do computer-based only,” Martin said.

Debbie O’Connor, executive director of The Greater Baton Rouge Literacy Coalition, said some potential test takers would be put off by a computer test.

“That is just not in their comfort zone,” O’Connor said. “With some of our older learners, they just weren’t brought up that way, wired that way.”

Amy Riker, national director of HiSET, said officials in other states had similar worries about the move to computers-only by GED test officials.

“That was causing a lot of concern for folks,” Riker said.

“These are a most needy population of individuals,” she said. “For them not to have access to further their lives to career or college, that was creating a real concern with all the different states.”

New Hampshire, Montana, Missouri, Iowa and Maine, like Louisiana, plan to start using HiSET in January, Riker said.

Armando Diaz, public affairs specialist for the GED Testing Service, said the firm will offer computer-only tests starting in 2014 because it is the only such exam aligned to federal college and career readiness standards, including digital technology.

Diaz also said 254 Louisiana residents have taken the GED test this year on computers and had a 95 percent passage rate compared to a 67 percent average for those who took the test on paper.

“We are really making all these changes to give adults a better chance for success and to really link them to success,” Diaz said.

The GED went through a major makeover in 2002, when more rigor was added.

The test consists of five sections.

Martin said students will notice little difference on the new version.

It too will cover math, writing, social studies, science and reading and, like the GED exam, will take roughly seven hours.

The cost will be $90, the same as the current rate.

Retests will be $6 per section.

Martin said the new exam will reflect the drive for tougher academic standards, called Common Core, that are being phased in at public schools in Louisiana and most other states.

But the ultimate goal, he said, is to put students and adults on a path to college or career training that allows them to support a family.

“These individuals have tremendous talents,” he said. “All we are trying to do is get them through this process as fast as we can and reduce the barriers.”