More Options Coming for High School Equivalency Exams

Chandra Villanueva

On January 29th the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) voted to allow multiple vendors to provide a high school equivalency exam to Texans without a high school diploma. The move was spurred by concerns about the General Education Development© (GED) test, administered by GED Testing Services, a subsidiary of Pearson. The GED is the most commonly known equivalency exam and the only one currently used in Texas.

In 2014, GED Testing Services redesigned the GED test to be more rigorous and moved it to an online-only platform. The cost to take the test also increased significantly. As a result, the number of Texas test-takers dropped 44.5 percent from 2012 to 2014. To address concerns raised by the new GED test, the SBOE released a competitive request for proposals (RFP) during their July board meeting that would allow one or more vendors to provide a high school equivalency exam in Texas.

Now that that SBOE has approved multiple vendors, the focus shifts to how and when those tests will be available for Texans seeking a high school equivalency.

CPPP produced a report, Texas Has a GED Problem: Alternative Paths to High School Equivalency, as part of our testimony at the July meeting, to draw attention to the need for high school equivalency options in Texas and to highlight the currently available alternatives.

At the January meeting the SBOE heard presentations from the three vendors who responded to the RFP, and ultimately recommended that each be made available in Texas:

  • TASC (Test Assessing Secondary Completion) – administered by Data Recognition Corporation in 12 states. The cost for the full battery of five tests is $52.
  • HiSET (High School Equivalency Test) – administered by Educational Testing Services in 19 states and five U.S. territories. The cost for the complete battery of tests is $75.
  • GED (General Education Development) – administered by GED Testing Services. The cost for the complete battery of tests is $80.

In addition to costs that the test provider charges, Texas requires the test taker to pay a $15 administrative fee, and the testing center collects an additional $10 fee. The Texas Education Agency anticipates that allowing multiple vendors to provide high school equivalency testing will result in an increase to the state administrative fee. The TASC and HiSET offer a paper test in addition to a computer based test; GED continues to be computer-based only.

The biggest issue of contention during the SBOE discussions was how closely each of these tests align with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the standards that drive educational curriculum in the state. Though every test showed high alignment, the vendors used different entities to conduct the alignment studies, making an apples-to-apples comparison difficult.

At the forthcoming April SBOE meeting, the board will work with education agency staff on how to implement the rollout of multiple vendors. The Texas Education Agency was unable to predict when test takers will have alternative high school equivalency testing options. There was also no indication that the SBOE will require testing centers to offer all three testing options.

Another big change impacts GED test takers nationwide. GED Testing Services announced it has reduced the score needed to pass the GED test by five points. After an extensive analysis that compared educational outcomes of traditional high school graduates to GED test takers, and conversations with policy makers and experts it was determined that the new passing score better reflects the skills and abilities of today’s high school graduate.

The score change takes effect immediately and is retroactive to January 1, 2014. As a result over 3,200 more Texans will now have earned a high school equivalency.

At CPPP we will monitor the implementation of the multi-vendor roll out and track and analyze data to see if this change leads to more Texans earning a high school equivalency.

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