Overhaul to GED Exam Undermines Accessibility

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by Lois Elfman

 

Test Taking

The GED will switch to a computer-based format in January 2014.

The general education development (GED) exam is getting an upgrade—not only will it double in cost, but the test will switch to a computer-based format, further marginalizing the exact people who take the exam.

The new changes will take effect on Jan. 1, 2014. In addition to the computer-based format, the exam will include testing of computer literacy skills that the test creators say are necessary to be college-ready and prepared for the workplace of the 21st century.

“We truly believe the direction we’re going in is what adults need to compete in the workforce and to get a college degree,” said Armando Diaz, public affairs specialist at GED Testing Service, makers of the GED.

Dr. Michelle Fine, distinguished professor of social psychology, women’s studies and urban education at the CUNY Graduate Center, strongly disagrees.

“GED has been a passport to higher education and to stable employment for marginalized communities,” Fine said. “It’s unclear how we as a society benefit to deny historically marginalized groups one of the few passports to higher education or work… . Why would we deplete the opportunities and elevate the despair of those who have been most marginalized?”

Diaz said that won’t be the case. He indicated that, by switching to a computer-based format, access will improve. Only two computers will be necessary to become an authorized testing center—one for the test taker and one for the administrator. He added that GED Testing Service has done extensive research (available on its website www.GEDtestingservice.com) and conducted focus groups. Most individuals who don’t own computers know someone who does and there are links to free computer skills and digital literacy programs.

Kaplan Test Prep, one of the leaders in the test prep industry, is trying to meet the needs of individuals hit hardest by the GED overhaul. Lee Weiss, executive director of GED programs, said Kaplan is partnering with such providers as technical colleges, community-based organizations, and libraries to help them disseminate information to low-income individuals studying for the GED.

Kaplan has also tried to create affordable and manageable test preps. There is the book, Kaplan GED: Complete Self-Study Guide for the GED Tests, and tutorials that can be accessed on mobile devices.

“The research shows that, while only about 60 percent of GED test takers have a computer in their home, over 75 percent of them have a Smart Phone,” Weiss noted. “We’ve made all of our stuff fully mobile and able so that students can click through questions, learn strategies and practice material in very short bursts of time.”

Weiss said technical access and basic skills are vital to succeed in the current labor force. He said the feedback he’s heard from community organizations is mixed. They understand the rationale behind the revamping of the GED, but they’re very concerned their students will be extremely challenged and frustrated.

Beyond low-income individuals, a huge area of concern is prison inmates. Research shows approximately 10 percent of all GED takers are incarcerated. Kaplan is trying to partner with organizations that work with prisoners to get the necessary test prep information out.

Diaz said GED Testing Service is working with prison organizations to try to figure out the logistics of how to administer the exams in a prison setting. There has been some limited testing of the new format, but it will take time to create a workable model for all prisons.

To Fine, who has worked with incarcerated individuals, the scenario is disheartening.

“In terms of computer access, finances and academic access, we’re creating a triple burden for a group of people who have historically been marginalized,” Fine said. “If the technology moves to online, we will have cut out the oxygen line to folks in prison.”

“People who’ve been through any college in prison are much less likely to recidivate,” she added.

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