GED exam to triple in price

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Taking the GED exam might be too costly for some people come January.

The price of the test is going to go up from about $40 to $120, affecting thousands of New Mexicans who take it each year.

According to the GED website, more than 600,000 people worldwide completed the GED test in 2010, and 72 percent passed.

In New Mexico, 7,338 residents passed the GED test last year; 7,270 passed in 2011, said Larry Behrens, public information officer for New Mexico Public Education Department.

Valencia County had 119 residents take the test, and 110 of them passed, said Joshua Owen, test administrator at University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus.

In January, not only will the test cost more, but will be upgraded to go beyond high school equivalency by measuring career- and college-readiness skills.

What was essentially a reading test, with multiple-choice answers on paper, will now require lengthier written answers on the computer.

For people who aren't skilled on computers, or skilled at writing essays, the changes could be challenging.

The test cannot be taken at home, online. It can only be taken at one of the state's 29 designated testing centers such as UNM, UNM-VC, Central New Mexico Community Collage, and Socorro Consolidated Schools, said Owen.

Currently, there is a mad dash to take the GED test before the change on Jan. 2, and testing centers are booked, Owen said.

The main campus is booked, and many test centers are only taking re-testers; people who have taken the test, but need to re-test a portion of it, he said.

All incomplete test results will expire on Dec. 6.

"This means that you must pass the entire GED test battery before Dec. 6 or your test scores will expire and you will need to start over," said Amy Hawkins, administrative assistant at the Educational Opportunity Center at UNM in Albuquerque.

After that date, it's still possible to take a computerized version of the current GED test at UNM-VC, for $120, said Tina Newby, manager of the adult education center there.

What is commonly referred to as the GED test is the General Education Development test. It was founded in 1942 by a nonprofit agency, the American Council on Education for veterans returning from World War II.

In 2011, the American Council on Education and Pearson VUE joined forces to create a new public-private partnership known as the GED Testing Service.

"The $120 is prohibitive for our population, so we've been writing grants, asking for money to help cover the costs of the test," Newby said. "We're continuing to look for funds."

Education officials approached legislators last year, because the GED is not the only high school equivalency test out there, she said.

The thing is, by New Mexico statute, only someone who has passed the GED test can be awarded a diploma. Because GED is a registered trademark name used in the language of public education institution admission requirements, it is the only test that can be used.

Each state chooses a high school equivalency test that meets its public education institutional requirements. Many use the GED, and some are exploring alternatives because of the test's rising cost.

Sen. Gay Kernan, (R-District 42) introduced Senate Bill 183 at the last legislative session that would amend the higher education admissions requirement language, replacing the term "GED" with "high school equivalency diploma."

"It passed both Houses," Kernan said.

But Gov. Susana Martinez pocket vetoed the bill. Kernan suspects they didn't get the wording right in the bill.

"We're going to work with the governor and see what her concerns are," Kernan said. "We want to make sure our diploma is not degraded. We want to get it right."

As it stands, because the term "GED" is now trademarked by Pearson VUE, the state can only accept Pearson VUE's test scores in awarding residents with high school diplomas. Kernan believes there should not be a trademark name in the statute.

She will reintroduce the bill in mid-January.

If the governor signs that bill, then school officials can push for an alternative test or add other high school equivalency tests to the statute.

"MacGraw-Hill and Educational Testing Services also have tests that will provide the same measures," said Newby. "Then there is the TASC Test. It's another test that measures the same skills — common core standards that would give high school equivalency.

"We're asking that they look at options and that there be fair procurement procedure between the three tests," Newby said.

For example, New York and Indiana have moved to the TASC test to offer their high school equivalency.

In 2009-10, New Mexico had the lowest graduation rate in the nation, at 59.4 percent, according to Editorial Projects in Education Research Center.

Newby and others see the need for a reasonably price, accessible test for those who never got their diplomas.

The UNM-VC Adult Education Center offers help for people needing high school equivalency testing year-round. The service starts with an orientation to assess skills, then offers a practice test to determine what course work is necessary.

For more information, call the UNM-Valencia Campus Adult Education Center at 925-8900, or visit the website at vcabe.unm.edu.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.