Two years after the American Council on Education (ACE), the parent company of the General Educational Development (GED) tests, teamed up with Pearson PLC to create the GED Testing Service, the ubiquitous high school equivalency exam is undergoing a makeover. In the coming months, test takers will put down their pencils and close their paper booklets in favor of a completely computerized exam, and they will open up their wallets to pay a doubled fee of $120. Because a good many adult students have no access to computers at home, some say the new computerized test disadvantages the very people it is trying to empower.

Toni Walker, a state representative for Hartford, CT, harbors some reservations about the digital GED. Walker, who also serves as assistant principal of the New Haven Adult and Continuing Education Center, states that less than 20 percent of her students own computers, “so if we don’t show them how to use a computer, they’re never going to be able to pass the GED, because they won’t be able to do it online.”

Randy Trask, president of the GED Testing Service, defends the move to digital, saying that computers are an integral part of any job. “Computers are a necessary part of society today. If you’re going to apply at a Walgreens or a Walmart or a Target, you’re going to be filling out an application on a computer,” he said.

The exclusionary effects of a computerized GED, however, might not matter if students cannot afford it. Right now, the average price of the current GED hovers around $60 but varies state by state. State subsidies in Connecticut, for instance, lower the price of the old test to $13. However, other states tack on administrative fees. In states such as Missouri, where fees are added on, the new GED would cost $140.

Walker voiced concerns over the implications the price increase will have on the educational landscape of the next several decades. “It is going to be prohibitive. . .People come here with pennies and nickels, bringing us change to pay for their GED,” Walker said. “So it’s going to be a class issue. People who have no money will never be able to actually take the GED.”

Trask believes the new price reflects the cost of a much-needed modernization of the GED, and any increase of the financial burden on test takers depends more on individual states than company policy. “Historically, states have chosen to subsidize the GED test; some partially and some in its entirety,” he said. “The state then chooses what to charge test takers for the test. And the state bears—or has historically born—all of the costs associated with the delivery of that test and the scoring.”

Many states are not taking these changes lying down, and several publishing companies are trying to pick up the slack. Educational Testing Service (ETS) and McGraw-Hill are developing cheaper, paper-based exams. New York, New Hampshire and Missouri have already decided to ditch the GED and choose one of the new tests. Whether or not these newcomers can supplant the GED from its dominant position in the world of high school equivalency exams remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: the luster of the GED’s absolute supremacy of the market is beginning to dim.

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