The ubiquity of the GED high school equivalency diploma has largely been unchallenged in the 70 years the program has been in effect. But beginning next year, Maine, which has been using the GED exclusively, is planning to drop the test for a more flexible exam. To that end, the state has contracted with the Educational Testing Services to design a new High School Equivalency Test that will become available to students starting next January.
Mario Moretto of the Bangor Daily News reports that while the material covered by the new exam will be the same, it will allow administrators more flexibility to bring down the cost of administering it. Without the change, Maine would have been forced to convert to computer-based test administration as that would have been the only option available to those taking the exam, thanks to an overhaul planned by the GED Testing Services for next year.
The new GED would have been offered on computers only. Currently the state offers the test by pen-and-paper, and higher education officials feared Maine would not be able to convert its testing sites to computers in time for the changeover. HiSET is offered electronically as well as through traditional pen-and-paper tests.
Though there is no cost to the individual test taker (Maine covers the price of high school equivalency tests), the new GED would have cost the state $80 per test battery. That's twice as much as the state pays for each battery, which is a test packet for one individual that includes exams on reading, writing, math, science and social studies.
By comparison, HiSET costs $50 per battery and includes two free retests. It can be offered by pen-and-paper or electronically, is aligned to meet current educational expectations and is targeted to adopt Common Core standards over time, according to Amy Riker, national director of HiSET for ETS.
Maine isn't the only state to wave goodbye to the GED. Six others have signed contracts with ETS in order to avoid having to switch to computer-based testing on GEDTS's schedule, and more states are reassessing their relationship with GED Testing Services in the wake of their merger with Pearson.
According to Gail Senese, the state's director of adult education, Maine was simply not going to be able to meet the short deadline for conversion set out by the GED Testing Services which mandated the update of all testing sites by January 2014. For a state like Maine that relies on pen-and-paper administration, going fully digital was just going to be too difficult in the short term.
"The guidelines for becoming an approved test center were much stricter," Senese said Friday. "It included what kinds of computer hardware you need, the physical layout of the testing sites. They required a lot more control."
While state education officials were looking into how to get ready for the new GED module, two other companies — HiSET and a program offered by textbook publisher McGraw-Hill — entered the market. Senese called it a huge shake-up.
"GED was the only game in town before this year," she said.