H.S. Equivalency Exams to Get New Look Next Year in New Jersey

John Mooney | November 21, 2013 | Education
Three new test options for those seeking to earn diploma will replace the soon-to-be-defunct GED

mortarboard graduation
The path to a high school equivalency degree in New Jersey is about to get more complicated, as the old GED test gets phased out by the end of the year and new menu of choices is rolled out for adults going back to get their diplomas.

The familiar GED test is ending across the country. The nonprofit organization that developed and administered the test was acquired by for-profit Pearson Vue Testing, which has remade the test and how it will be administered to roughly 1 million individuals nationwide each year, starting in 2014.

The start date next year gave each state the opportunity to decide how it would handle the change. As in several other states, the Christie administration has announced that New Jersey will provide a range of options for individuals seeking to take the equivalency exam.

In a proposal presented to the State Board of Education last week, the state Department of Education listed three providers approved by the state for the first year: Pearson, the Education Testing Service and McGraw-Hill.

Peter Shulman, the assistant state commissioner, said the administration hoped that providing the range of options keep the testing affordable and provide easier access to the five-part equivalency test.

“The idea of having just one provider with essentially a monopoly on this didn’t provide us much leverage in driving costs down and driving quality up and providing multiple vehicles for taking the test,” Shulman told the board.

Last year, 13,000 individuals in New Jersey took the test, with approximately 9,000 passing. Shulman said nearly 17,000 are expected to take the test this year, the last year of the current exam. As many as 1 million New Jersey residents are not high school graduates and could be eligible, officials said.

“While we think it is great that there are 13,000 taking the test, there is a much broader opportunity we’d like to make available,” Shulman said.

He said one thing that was particularly important in choosing the providers was their ability to continue to provide a paper-and-pencil test. Pearson Vue had proposed offering just an online test. Shulman said each version will be available in either format.

The state’s 32 test centers will have the option to choose any or all of the three tests, in both online and paper versions, and the state will also be regulating the price, he said.

For the typical test-taker, the average cost will be about $112, including any necessary retests, Shulman said. Pearson had proposed in its new version that the cost could be as high as $190.

Even the lower price is a big increase from the current $50 for each test, but Shulman said it would at least keep the cost consistent between the three versions.

“The last thing we want to do is gouge these folks who are taking the tests, many of them who can least afford it,” he said.

The proposal remains under review by the state board, but there appeared to be no opposition. Board President Arcelio Aponte said he had only heard some concerns about the preparation classes and whether their curricula would need to be revised. All three of the new tests will be aligned with the Common Core State Standards, Shulman said.

McGraw-Hill Education this week was already pressing the case for its version of the exam, called the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC), saying it could be an even less expensive option.

A company spokesman said the fee being charged by the company would be as low as $52 per test. That does not include test-preparation materials, which are an additional cost.

The TASC exam will be only test offered in New York and Indiana. It is one of options in Nevada and Wyoming — and presumably in New Jersey, if approved.

In all states, there will need to be a significant public-awareness campaign to alert people to the new rules and options, said Brian Belardi, McGraw-Hill Education’s communications director.

“There’s a lot of educating that will need to be done by all of us,” he said. “Overcoming that hurdle where everyone thinks there is just the GED and suddenly there are different options like TASC, it will take a big education effort.”