Low-Income Mainers Left Behind in GED Privatization

Mainers without a high school diploma do not fare well in the economy. They are stuck in low-paying jobs with little opportunity for advancement. For many working adults, the first step in climbing out of a low-wage job is to obtain a high school equivalency diploma. But that possibility just got harder.

Recent changes to the General Educational Development (GED®) test pose new obstacles for adult learners who want to earn their diploma. Starting January 1, 2014, the GED, which has been owned by the nonprofit American Council on Education for 70 years, will be privatized.

The new company will sanction GED tests only at sites that meet the company’s technology requirements. This has forced 78 adult education sites across Maine to scramble to buy new computers and other equipment, if they can afford them. If they can’t, those sites won’t be able to proctor the GED, making it harder for test takers to find a site near them.

The tests, which now are taken with paper and pencil, will be available only on-line beginning January 1. Older test takers and others not used to computers and the Internet could have trouble even registering for the tests.

The new tests could also leave behind as many as 4,000 GED candidates who are in process of taking the tests. That’s because candidates have to take and pass five tests. There will be no grandfathering. If GED candidates don’t successfully finish all five tests by the end of this year, they will have to start all over again.

Most troubling of all is that the private company will increase the price for the test series from $40 to $120. In Maine, the state pays for its adult learners to take the GED tests, increasing the demands on an already strained state budget. And the state will have little control over future costs.

Maine test takers perform extremely well on the GED. Nearly 87 percent pass the tests, most the first time. This is in no small part due to the dedication of adult educators who work one-on-one with students to prepare them to take the tests.  Because of the changes to test administration next year, Maine’s high success rate, and with it the adults who need a diploma for their jobs, is in jeopardy.

Maine’s Department of Education can mitigate these problems. They will soon go out to bid for proposals to provide a high school equivalency test in Maine that the Department can evaluate against the new company providing the GED.

While the GED is the most widely accepted, there are other testing services and exams for granting a high school equivalency diploma. New York State has adopted the TASCTM test developed by McGraw Hill. New Hampshire will use the nonprofit HiSETTM test. Both are more affordable and flexible. The HiSET testers will even grandfather students who have passed parts of the GED prior to 2014.

We urge the department to select an option that remains cost-free to test-takers and gives Maine’s low-income adult learners the greatest chance of success. This will provide them the job opportunities they need to support themselves and their families.

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