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Coming soon: A tougher GED exam

The changes are due in 2014. The goal is to align the tests with demands of the workforce and postsecondary programs.

By by Connie Langland on Feb 3, 2012 12:31 PM
Photo: Velvet S. McNeil, Velvet Multi Media

Veda Henderson, transition director, teaches a GED class at YESPhilly in North Philadelphia.

The GED program, a battery of tests that has proved a lifeline to many a high school dropout, is about to get tougher.

And local providers of adult education worry that changes to the tests, set to take effect in 2014, may overwhelm the aspirations of some learners, dealing them a severe setback.

The changes to the GED will count as the biggest overhaul to the credentialing program since its inception 70 years ago. It will align GED goals with business, government, and foundation initiatives promoting strong skill sets and postsecondary training.

"We're not doing anyone any favor [with weak tests]. We know 80 percent of jobs require some form of education beyond high school," said CT Turner, GED Testing Service spokesman, taking note of big changes in workforce needs.

"A high school diploma isn't enough. A GED credential isn't enough."

Over the decades, acquiring a GED, or high school equivalency degree, has opened doors to employment, college or other postsecondary training for adults lacking a high school diploma. More than 17 million people have earned their GED since the program started in 1942, with about 475,000 passing the tests in 2009. More than 18,000 won GED diplomas that year in Pennsylvania.

The challenge for the American Council on Education, which administers the program, has been to assure employers that the tests are a reliable measure of a job applicant's level of learning – that a GED holder can go toe-to-toe with a diploma holder.

Last year, the council announced it was joining with Pearson, a media company, to develop new, more rigorous tests aligned with the Common Core State Standards adopted by most states.

The tests were last updated a decade ago, and that resulted in a drop in the numbers of both test-takers and test-passers, though numbers began to rise again within a few years.

The 2014 plan also calls for an overhaul of professional development for GED teachers, career and college counseling for GED applicants, and extensive revisions to the GED curriculum.

Acquiring the GED will be promoted less as an end in itself and more as a step toward college or some other postsecondary training. The new exams will have two competency levels: one connoting high school equivalency and a higher one denoting college readiness.

The tests are still in development, but several key points have emerged:

  • The tests will be more rigorous and challenging in terms of content knowledge in the five testing areas (language arts/writing, language arts/reading, math, science, and social studies).
  • The tests will require at least minimal computer and keyboarding skills. Paper-and-pencil testing will be a thing of the past.
  • The costs of taking the test, now about $75 in Pennsylvania, almost certainly will increase, though new pricing has not yet been set.

For adult education providers, the upcoming changes mean a scramble to revamp curriculum, offer professional development to teachers, and counsel would-be GED seekers on the consequences of delay.

"I am motivating people to get their GED in the next year, before the change. I'm pushing students to sign up now, not later," said April Jefferson, a career coach and case manager with Community Learning Center (CLC) on Lehigh Avenue at North Broad Street.

Jefferson herself holds a GED and is seeking a bachelor's degree in psychology.

The center serves adults mostly in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and older – one gray-bearded gentleman recently won his GED so he could cross it off his "bucket list."

Adults who left school long before computers were in every classroom will have to learn keyboarding and other basic computer skills before they can even think about answering substantive questions on the new computerized tests.

CLC Executive Director Rebecca Wagner said that her center's clientele will be severely impacted by any increase in the $75 fee. She also lamented the shortage of testing sites in Philadelphia. Currently there is a wait of four to six weeks to take the tests.

"We are concerned about the impact on students at the grassroots [in terms of] keyboarding, and costs, and knowledge. Science is science, but right now if you can critically think, you can figure out the GED," she said.

Critics say the current GED curriculum falls short of the skills needed in the modern workplace. A year ago, New York City unveiled a pilot program to raise GED standards, citing analyses showing students could pass the current GED with only 8th grade proficiency in reading and math and 6th grade writing skills. The U.S. military classifies GED (and virtual high school) degrees as "Tier 2" – carrying less weight than a high school diploma.

But Wagner challenged assertions that the GED is no match for a high school diploma.

"In many ways, people who have been through the GED process – it's very difficult – have a leg up on people who have coasted through high school," she said. "You don't glide through the GED."

Studying for the GED can take three months or even years, depending on a learner's skill level.

Wagner calls the GED a basic "workforce credential," echoing the view of labor experts and employers.

Walter Yakabosky, director of training at the Energy Coordinating Agency in Philadelphia, noted that in the weatherization and energy efficiency industry, workers now need state and even national certifications that require passing difficult tests of their own.

"Given the level that the books and materials are written, individuals without a high school diploma or GED would struggle. Even with these credentials, many do struggle. For me, credentials matter," Yakabosky said.

Jefferson, the CLC career coach, said she uses her own experience to exhort dropouts to pursue their GED.

"Not just here, but in my neighborhood, I promote success. It can be done," Jefferson said. "I had two kids by the time I got a GED, but now I know how to be self-sufficient. I also know what it's like to not have a GED, to not get a job – to be a statistic."

About the Author

Connie Langland writes about education issues in the Philadelphia region.

Comments (37)

Submitted by linda (not verified) on March 10, 2012 4:41 am

you need to read better than a sixth grader now.

Submitted by Riad arefin (not verified) on December 29, 2012 4:34 am
From where I can buy a GED book in Dubai.will u plz email me?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 12, 2013 11:28 am
What part of "graduate equivalences" is failing to register with people?! This is supposed to help people who could NOT finish high school for some reason or another (family support or issues, MONEY issues etc. It’s supposed to make sure they have reasonable skills to either enter the workforce, or take the next step and obtain a college degree, the way they should have IF they got a proper High School Education. But while we continue to ignore the idea of making a regular HIGH SCHOOL education more difficult to achieve, by NOT holding back those students who "coast" through high school, “coast” through college and then “coast” through a high paying jobs because of their degrees, we chose to punish people who probably had no support IN High School to help them complete it and wound up having to try and finish that education by other means?! I suggest the workforce and government have HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS take this proposed battery of GED tests first and if THEY fail them modify the criteria till a supposed group of "college ready" students can pass them OR fail the High School students as well and make them STAY in High School till they can pass this level of testing. This would then overcrowd the already overcrowded High School education system, causing more drops out and more people taking the GED, which of course COST more than going to a public High School.... Can you see the double standard here?! Is the goal here to have an educated workforce? Scare kids into sticking out their High School education regardless of what life throws at them and their families? Punish people who don't follow the societal norms concerning education?! Here is one more suggestion. Have the CEO's and Government Officials demanding these changes take these tests as well. With their degrees it should be no problem right? If they fail, they get to lose their jobs and figure out how to get the money to pay to achieve this illustrious new GED which they would obviously need to be productive in the workforce.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 6, 2013 11:59 am
Nicely put.
Submitted by Justin (not verified) on June 13, 2013 9:51 pm
Nicely put, couldn't agree more. 40% of highschool graduates can't pass the GED exam, making it more difficult hardly seems necessary. I really don't see their logic behind this at all. It's not really what you learn in highschool that will make or brake you at your career, but what you learn in college. I think what's in the current GED program is sufficient enough to make a person "college ready". Harder and more expensive tests is going to backfire in their faces. Less people will take it, or at the least pass it, and less people will advance to college. More minimum wage jobs and unemployed people on the horizon, wouldn't be suprised if a few more drug dealers and crooks pop up too. People have mouths to feed and bills to pay lest we forget. I could understand including basic computer skills, but that's about it. Even then, any moron can find free classes for that if he looks hard enough. And what's this I hear about them saying "Oh, well, most people who get the GED don't do anything after that, it's their end goal blah blah blah". What planet are YOU from? The very reason most people go for the GED is because, well, let's see, it get's you into a college or get's you a job. Sometimes both. Who came up with that one? That is such a poor argument I'd dare call it a blatant lie, well, one would hope it's a lie. Otherwise I'd be a little concerned. I dunno, you want my opinion? I'm tired of seeing idiots come up with half-assed ideas to make it seem like their doing something about a problem when all they are doing is hurting the public more because of their ignorance. Yet these same people want to tell us we're not learning enough.
Submitted by bgurrl (not verified) on March 2, 2014 7:30 pm
It's not even what you learn in college. It's that you have a piece of paper.
Submitted by bgurrl (not verified) on March 2, 2014 7:14 pm
That's the point. Less people will pass it and won't go on to college or even the workforce or at least good jobs. Has it never occurred to anyone why law schools have to now be A. B. A. approved? Why only (depending on the sate) law students who've gone to A. B. A. schools can take the bar and that you can only take the bar after finishing law school? Before the great depression the A. B. A. didn't have power. No one took them seriously when policing schools. You had many non accredited night schools. Many poor, immigrant, non whites were going to these schools and becoming lawyers. This also goes for other degree programs. Has it ever occurred to anyone why accredited schools cost so much more than non accredited (or at least the ones not looking to become accredited)? I won't be surprised when you have many who start taking and passing the CLEP, Dantes etc. that you don't see this, cost rises, or elimination of them as an option all together. Has anyone ever wondered why there are placement exams in college/uni. Those at Universities love to talk about how they are separate from High school yet they sure do depend on what you did in high school. They sure do grade and test the same way as primary and secondary. The reason we now have these tests is to keep out home educated children or make it harder for them to get it. These kids were outperforming (and I mean kids like 11 etc.)17, 18 year old college kids just coming from high school. These children were outperforming older adults as well. Also the GED is practical knowledge. This is the reason that many high school students can't pass it. Kids who have gone to non accredited public charter schools and non accredited private schools are being told they can't get into college, because their high school was non accredited, yet these same schools will enter a student from a non accredited (which you wouldn't believe how many) traditional public High school. Ask yourself why. Who benefits from this? What is the agenda? They are far from ignorant. They know exactly what they are doing.
Submitted by rebeka mikaelson (not verified) on August 21, 2013 12:39 am
There are two types of high school student today, the bullied and the bullies. Most probably, the bullies are the ones to be punished. however, those kids have the right to be heard with their reasons for acting such a brat. lets all be fair to the kids. get more fans on facebook
Submitted by rebeka mikaelson (not verified) on August 21, 2013 12:28 am
There are two types of high school student today, the bullied and the bullies. Most probably, the bullies are the ones to be punished. however, those kids have the right to be heard with their reasons for acting such a brat. lets all be fair to the kids. get more fans on facebook
Submitted by Omer (not verified) on October 25, 2013 3:01 am
Hello! Although I don't live in the US but I believe that the government of the United States is not capable of providing jobs to all it's citizens. A major portion of the taxes are being thrown away in this useless goal-less and baseless war instead of investing the money in generating jobs for the people. Instead of correcting it's foreign policy it is making education more expensive and harder for common citizens so that fewer people with above average intelligence become successful. The fewer successful candidates they have the more easier to give jobs to them. However, this strategy will not solve the problems, rather will increase them. The more unemployed the nation becomes , the more bad the economy will get. GED getting harder is just a small protion of a bigger problem. My appeal to American people! WAKE UP.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 2, 2014 2:23 pm
I have been working on my get for 6 years now I had To start from the ground shame in my game being Out of school for about 36 years the ged test was very hard but I past everything but the math now all of my scores that I earn are gone and I have to start all over it's just not fare
Submitted by julia (not verified) on January 10, 2014 10:58 am
i did the same thing past all of my test last year and took the math 3 times and did not pass so now i have to start all over again... now i am trying to find some where they have classes so that i can take the GED again all over again and it's harder imaging that.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 2, 2014 2:54 pm
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 14, 2014 3:57 am
you need to read better than a sixth grader now.
Submitted by alana (not verified) on June 4, 2014 4:59 am
This is fair enough, I mean 10 years is a lot of time especially when science and technology continuously evolve and influence every field and industry more and more. alana
Submitted by Dalilah (not verified) on June 6, 2014 6:28 am
GED exams have always been hard. Every year they say the same: this is the hardest. Well, they are equal as difficulty. Maybe from year to year students are less prepared, that's all. Dalilah
Submitted by Juan (not verified) on August 30, 2014 8:08 am

Well, it's getting so hard to find a job, even for qualified students. I hope you can help people learning and applying a job with success and live better. Live's a beautiful present god give us. Thanks for what you do! Juan

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