GED will go digital next year in Va., elsewhere

Starting in January, high school drop-outs in Virginia and much of the country will have to log on to a computer if they want to take the GED: The paper-and-pencil test will be history.

As the high school equivalency test is updated to reflect current demands of college and the workplace, test administrators say computer literacy is a key skill that credential-seekers need to demonstrate.

Abandoning the paper-based exam has prompted a backlash, though, as has increasing the test’s price tag. The new GED will cost $120, more than twice what many states, including Virginia, now charge.

A few states are opting for alternative vendors, sparking competition in what has been a near-monopoly since the GED was introduced in 1942.

The American Council on Education, the GED’s long-time nonprofit administrator, partnered with Pearson, the world’s largest education and testing company, to redesign the test, making it a for-profit enterprise for the first time.

Officials in Maryland and the District have said they plan to stick with the GED for now, but officials in Virginia took more time to evaluate emerging alternatives. They announced Friday that they too plan to stick with the GED.

“It was difficult to really look at these other options when you have someone who is already tried and true,” said Susan Clair, director of Virginia’s Office of Adult Education and Literacy.

New York was the first state to break with the GED, contracting in March with McGraw Hill, which is developing another equivalency exam called the “Test Assessing Secondary Completion.” Montana and New Hampshire are contracting with Educational Testing Service, which is developing the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET).

Virginia officials said they were concerned that alternative tests may take longer to be recognized by colleges or employers, while everyone knows the GED.

Virginia already has a relationship with Pearson. The education company administers the Standards of Learning tests each year. The most recent three-year contract was worth $110 million.

Two testing centers in Virginia started to pilot a computer-based GED last year, and 46 sites around the state now offer a computer-based test as well as the paper-and-pencil version.

Debbie Bergtholdt, Virginia’s GED administrator, said early feedback has been positive, with people finishing faster and passing at a higher rate.

She said she doesn’t agree with concerns that older test-takers will be at a disadvantage with the new digital format.

“It’s amazing to me how many grandmas and grandpas pull smartphones out of their pocket to make a phone call,” she said. “It’s a preconceived notion that old people can’t do this,” she said.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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