My popular education project revolves around the 2014 Pearson takeover of the GED exam, and the many issues with the new test that make it inequitable. In my project, I identify eight glaring issues that pose serious hurdles for anyone seeking to earn a GED. The first issue is cost. The new GED costs $120 dollars (not including a $24 practice test fee), while the old test was only $75 in Washington. This is a big increase for a population that is primarily low income. A second major issue is the exclusively online nature of the new test. Test takers who have little or no experience with technology or keyboarding are instantly set up for failure. A third issue deals with methods of payment and registration. With an online only test, the only way to pay for the test is by credit card at http://www.ged.com (unless cash vouchers are available locally for purchase). Many GED seeking students do not have credit cards, acting as a major barrier to success. Some secondary issues include an online only practice test that is non-reviewable (it simply tells you if you are ready for the real test or not), the use of dry erase boards instead of scratch paper, a ridiculous on-screen calculator and highly confusing calculator reference sheet, a lack of transparency from Pearson (they don’t provide ANY demographic information or student scoring to testing centers or educators), and the simple fact that the content of the new test is substantially more difficult than that of its predecessor, especially in math and science. All of these changes make earning a GED that much more difficult for the people who badly need this credential to support their families and obtain a job that pays a living wage. As I learned in my research, there are now two competing tests, the HiSET (produced by the non-profit company ETS) and the TASC (produced by McGraw Hill Education) that are less than half the cost of the new GED and are both offered in electronic and pencil and paper formats. Both of these alternatives are more difficult than the previous GED as well, however, they are must more accessible for their target population. Unfortunately, since the creators of the Common Core standards have a partnership with Pearson, and Bill Gates has spent over 200 million dollars promoting the Common Core standards, there is little hope that either of these tests will be made available as alternatives in Washington any time soon. Since Pearson administers the new GED, Gates will want to preserve a testing monopoly in our state. If a competing test were available in Washington, his profits would take a sizable hit.
Throughout this process, I have learned a great deal of information about the new GED, as well as the new tests that are attempting to steal its market share. I was able to speak with many students during my research in order to gain opinions which allowed me to create the list of issues above. I was also able to spend some time at Bellingham Technical College observing their GED courses to gain a different perspective on how teachers at other schools are preparing students for the new test. I was able to meet some wonderful new contacts in Marcia Leister and Carol Follett at BTC, both of whom discussed the issues surrounding the new test in depth with me. Marcia has been very vocal in her criticisms of the new test, and she will serve as a great colleague to have. I will also have the opportunity to meet with a local group of educators that are particularly concerned about the GED and are doing everything in their power to create a house bill that will be passed by state legislators in Olympia. Ultimately, the goal is not necessarily to do away with the new GED, but to at least give students an alternative testing option in the event that Pearson decides not to make changes, despite the horrific test scores nationwide. If either the HiSET or TASC are adopted by our state, then the freedom of choice can be exercised.
The major outcome of this project was the realization that when education is for profit and politics are involved, it is much more difficult to promote change at the state level. Several house bills that would have adopted the HiSET as an alternative test in Washington State failed in Olympia because the ‘powers that be’ killed them. In other words, people with money invested in these tests and special interests would not allow the bills to pass. Money is the only plausible reason why this type of bill would fail, because for what other reason would allowing students to have an option of which test they would like to take to earn their high school diploma be a problem? Despite the difficulties that these issues present, it will not stop activists from working hard to see that change happens. More bills will be proposed until Pearson either changes their test or the state caves in and provides students with an alternative because they are too embarrassed that passing rates on the new GED sit at 37% (or less) in Washington. Only time will tell, but we must be optimistic that change is somewhere on the horizon.