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Report: Dramatic decline in high school-equivalency test takers after changes


The number of New Jersey adults taking the high school equivalency test plunged from nearly 17,000 in 2013 to fewer than 9,000, both in 2015 and 2016, after changes made the exam harder and pricier.

The passing rate also dropped markedly, from nearly 70 percent to roughly 55 percent following the changes.

Those are the findings of a report released Monday by the Center for Women and Work at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations.

“This does not bode well for the state’s poorest residents,” said Karen White, director of policy analysis and community engagement at the Rutgers Center for Women and Work, in a statement. “For adults who do not complete high school, passing a high school equivalency test is the only way to receive a diploma — the bare minimum requirement for most New Jersey jobs and military admission. Those who manage to find work earn almost 60 percent less on average than workers with a diploma.”

The non-profit American Council on Education administered New Jersey’s only high school equivalency test—the General Education Development or GED test—for more than 50 years before entering a public-private partnership with Pearson VUE. A new exam was unveiled in March 2014 with major changes:

-          The test became more difficult, aligning with Common Core State Standards.

-          A computer-based test, requiring basic computer skills, replaced pencil and paper.

-          Now a for-profit product, the test jumped in price from $50 to $120 including fees.

Though New Jersey approved two tests as alternatives – Education Testing Service’s HiSET and McGraw Hill’s TASC – both are in the $90 range. Like the GED test, they are computer-based and more rigorous per Common Core State Standards.

“The current program leaves far too many of New Jersey’s adult learners behind,” said Elaine Zundl, research director at the Rutgers Center for Women and Work, in a statement. “More than 256,000 adults in New Jersey do not have a high school diploma and 20 percent of them are living below the poverty line. We need to focus on how to make the test more affordable and accessible for the people who need it the most—low-income working families.”

The Rutgers Center for Women and Work’s report, New Jersey High School Equivalency Test: More Test Options, Less Opportunity, also raises concerns about transportation and language barriers facing some low-income adult learners. New Jersey has increased the number of high school equivalency test locations from 32 to 52 since 2013, but with more testing sites in urban areas and more tests available in Spanish some rural areas with high poverty rates remain underserved, it said.

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