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New computer-only format of GED exam spurs competing tests

The revamped GED exam does away with pencil-to-paper test sheets. High school equivalency exams from two other test providers will let students take tests on paper or computer.

By Stephen Ceasar

9:58 PM EST, January 5, 2014

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The creator of the General Educational Development test, long the measure of high school equivalency for dropouts, has unveiled a revamped computer-only exam that has spurred competition from two other test providers letting students decide which format they prefer.

The new version of the 71-year-old GED, which debuted last week, for the first time does away with pencil-to-paper test sheets. The exam is also meant to be more rigorous and places a greater focus on job readiness than high school equivalency. It will evaluate "career and college-readiness skills" with fewer multiple-choice questions and more content-based answers.


FOR THE RECORD:
GED test: An article in the Jan. 6 LATExtra section about a new online-only General Educational Development exam said the test has five sections. The new exam has four sections.

But a number of states have opted out of the new test amid the emergence of two competing exams that offer students an alternative.

States that have decided against administering the new exam have cited cost and accessibility concerns with the elimination of the pencil-to-paper test. Nine states — Iowa, Montana, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, West Virginia, New York, Missouri and New Hampshire — have dropped the GED exam and will now offer other tests. Some states will offer several options, including the GED exam, and others will decide in coming months.

California is currently offering the test, but the state is expected in March to begin considering whether to offer solely the updated GED exam, another test, or a slate of exams going forward, said Diane Hernandez of the California Department of Education.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school system in the nation, will not provide the GED exam this year and will await California's decision, state officials said.

About 50 testing centers offering the new exam are open across the state, with seven of those in the Los Angeles area, said C.T. Turner, a spokesman for GED Testing Service, the organization that offers the exam. About 40 other test centers are awaiting approval by the state, Turner said.

California tests about 57,000 people for high school equivalency annually, Hernandez said.

"Our goal is to allow people to take the test in the format comfortable to them," Hernandez said.

The new GED test is designed to help students transition into careers, not simply be a measurement of high school equivalency, Turner said. The goal was to create "a program to help move them from dropout to being prepared for college and career training programs," he said.

"It's about jobs and preparing people for jobs," Turner said.

Test takers can register online and have a more flexible test schedule with the computerized format, Turner said. Students can take one or all five of the test sections at once, rather than the previous two-day time testing schedule.

After the changes to the GED were announced in 2012, two test providers began developing their own exams to meet the demands of states unhappy with the changes. The announcement also spurred a rush of test takers hoping to complete the old exam before the end of 2013. Those who passed portions of the old test will have to start the entire process over with the revamped exam.

The Education Testing Service, a nonprofit organization, developed the High School Equivalency Test, or HiSET. Students can choose to take the exam on computer or paper. The organization began developing the exam after states expressed concern with the cost, accessibility and content of the new GED exam, said Amy Riker, national executive director for HiSET.

Another test, called the Test Assessing Secondary Completion, or TASC, was created by CTB/McGraw-Hill, a for-profit company.

The company decided to take a transitional approach with the test. In the first year, it will include familiar multiple choice questions, and students can take it on paper or computer, said Michael Johnson, national adult education manager for the company.

Each year, the company hopes to increase the amount of technology involved and steadily make the exam more rigorous, Johnson said.

The Education Testing Service and CTB-McGraw-Hill contend that their tests offer a less costly alternative to the new GED and many states offering the exams intend to honor old scores.

The new exams simply "replicate what the old GED test did," Turner said, adding that states who opt for the other tests are essentially keeping the status quo of the last decade.

Marty Finsterbusch, president of ValueUSA, a nonprofit organization that advocates for adult students, said that test takers are now facing tougher standards with fewer resources. The increased difficulty has not been met with increased training and education for test takers, he said.

"The adult learner is going to be the one who suffers," he said.

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com