The GED got a lot harder when it was revamped in January 2014, and experts are questioning what that means for students looking for a high school equivalency certificate. 

In response to the test’s increased difficulty, Texas education groups asked the State Board of Education to offer students more options for high school equivalency tests. After hearing three hours of testimony, the board voted 14-0 Wednesday to seek cheaper, easier alternatives to the GED. 

The GED has a complicated history in the American education system. We broke down the history of the test, what brought about the change, and what all of this means for Texans seeking high school equivalency certificates. 

What exactly is the GED? 

GED stands for “General Educational Development,” a test that covers math, reading comprehension, science, and social studies, crafted to determine whether the test taker has the equivalent of a high school education. It was the first test in the U.S. and Canada of its kind, but it is now one of three exams available that can result in high school-level credentials. 

The other two came into the picture in 2014, when the GED, then owned by the not-for-profit organization the American Council on Education, shifted hands to private corporation and educational testing giant Pearson. The privatization of high school equivalency testing sparked two new options: the TASC and HiSET tests, provided by McGraw-Hill and Educational Testing Service, respectively. 

You can’t “earn” a GED through classes. The GED is a test, and if you pass the GED in Texas, you receive a State of Texas Certificate of High School Equivalency

So what’s the fuss about Pearson’s new test? 

Pearson faced a strong backlash for creating a test that was significantly more difficult than the former one. Opponents flag the inclusion of Common Core in its mathematics section, its computer-based administration, and overall focus on college prep rather than workforce readiness.  

To emphasize just how difficult the new test is, Matt Colette, a reporter with a master’s from Columbia University, took it himself. He wrote about the experience for the Daily Beast

I spent nearly seven hours taking the test, wracking my brain for details I haven’t thought about since 2005, when I graduated from high school. When it was all over, I felt exhausted and dumb,” he said

As a result of the new standards, test opponents such as Amber Sims of Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) are pointing out that fewer people are taking the new test, and of those who are, far fewer are passing: 

“Last year, of the 248,000 people who took the test, about 86,000 successfully earned a GED, according to data from GED Testing Services. That’s a free-fall compared to the previous year: 800,000 test takers and nearly 560,000 GED recipients in 2013.” 

What are the implications of the test change? 

As Sims put it: The Pearson-created test has now made it extremely difficult for low-income Americans to receive a degree needed to fill just about any job in this country — and the implications for America’s identity as ‘land of of opportunity’ are disastrous.”

Since Pearson’s takeover, the cost of the test has risen from $80 to $120, a discernible barrier for low-income test takers. Sims and Kathryn Thompson of the Tarrant Literacy Coalition are arguing that the computer-based administration puts test takers without typing proficiency at a disadvantage. 

Before Pearson took over, however, employers and learning institutions in a strained economy weren’t taking the GED super seriously. As Los Angeles Schools Superintendent John Deasy told NPR in 2012, “The GED is a credential. Is it adequate for gainful employment and a living wage in the United States of America today? I do not think so.”

As Nicole Chestang of the American Council on Education said, “I think we’re doing people a real disservice if we don’t raise the bar so they are positioned for today’s jobs.”

Rather than focusing on the difficulty of the new exam, proponents generally focus on the test’s core purpose: does the test taker have the equivalent knowledge that high school provides? 

What’s going on with the GED in Texas? 

It’s up to states to determine which of the three available tests they offer, and as of now, the GED is Texas’ only option. With the introduction of new tests, other states have either offered new options in addition to the GED or bucked it completely. Critics of the new test have demands not too far off from what other states are already offering: “We want to be sure that when the contract or contracts are issued in the middle of 2016, that our state allows for at least two choices so the students have the option of choosing between providers,” Kathryn Thompson of the Tarrant Literacy Coalition told the Austin American-Statesman.

(Flickr | Ryan McGilchrist)