New GED Exams Mean Revenue For Testing Companies

Students who drop out of high school will be facing a new testing system when they seek their diploma. The new system will demand more skills — and yield bigger profits for testing companies.

Politico's Stephanie Simon writes that the American Council on Education has been administering the traditional GED exam for more than 70 years. Meant to better prepare students for the workforce, the new exam will replace the old one Thursday. Providing a "buffet" of options from three testing companies, the tests differ greatly in price, length and difficulty.

The exams' new role as profit centers have drawn up uncertainty into a system that has long been known to help millions of high school drop outs. Vice President of America's Promise Alliance says: "As with any reform, it's, ‘Let's hold our breath and see how it works out"

In state houses from coast to coast, these changes have led to policy debates. Lawmakers have to decide whether or not one of the three tests (with a testing fee of up to $120 per student) can be the exclusive path to a high school equivalency certificate, or to let test takers choose.

Funds for adult education programs have been cut drastically through the years. GED advocates fear that due to limited funds the program will serve fewer students in 2014 due to funds needing to go to training teacher and buying computers.

"It's going to get ugly," said Marty Finsterbusch, executive director of VALUEUSA, an advocacy group run by and for adult learners. He noted that there are 39 million adults in the U.S. without high school diplomas, and many GED classes already have long waiting lists. "People are trying to better themselves, but you're putting more roadblocks in their way," Finsterbusch said.

The new testing system may have other unplanned consequences like states adopting the easiest test in order to boost graduation rates. Students who get to choose their test will likely choose the easier one in order to guarantee success.

 "Of course that's possible," said Richard Murnane, an economist at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. "It all depends [on] what the incentives are. It's difficult to get them right."

The changes have shaken a system that is of utmost importance to millions of U.S. residents. 12% of high school diplomas in this country are awarded through a GED. Some of those who receive the credential are convicts who take it in prison and immigrants who need it to have a shot at a job.

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