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Imperium Watch: GED Goes Corporate

A vital aid to educational and economic mobility will become the property of a for-profit company.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

In a time when social and economic mobility in the U.S. are not what they used to be—for some time now, studies have shown that Americans are less likely than Canadians or Europeans to better their personal finances by as much as their parents did—it's worth a look at what's happening to a crucial aid to mobility in America, the GED.

The salvation of generations of high school dropouts, the General Educational Development certificate came into being in 1942, to help returning World War II vets get their economic feet under them. Since then, 18 million Americans have used it to get jobs and/or enter college, according to the American Council on Education, which has been the sole provider of the test.

The fee for the test has varied depending on the state in which it's taken; in New York the exam is free, while in California it costs $100. The fee is $65 in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, $75 in Vermont.

Now the GED is slated to change from a nonprofit enterprise to a program administered by a for-profit company, Pearson LC—a British conglomerate that owns everything from publishers such as Penguin, Prentice Hall and Financial Times Group to educational and testing enterprises (including Amherst-based National Evaluation Systems). Pearson's ownership of Edexcel, one of Britain's five examination boards, raised a conflict-of-interest flag when complaints arose that some lines of Edexcel's testing were linked to Pearson publications, but the counterargument was that the questions covered a wide range of information found in other publications as well as Pearson's.

Adult education teachers and others involved with GED testing and certification are worried about what some describe as the "corporate capture" of the test. The alarm has already been raised in New York that the fee could jump from zero to as much as $125 ($25 for each part of the five-pronged test), the unconfirmed but expected price when Pearson takes over the test in 2014. A rise in fees for the GED, says Linda O'Connell, an instructor at Holyoke Community College's Adult Learning Center, will be a hardship.

"We are really talking about people for whom $65 is a major investment," says O'Connell. "It's not chump change when every penny—for people living below the poverty line—is accounted for."

And when Pearson takes over the program, people who have completed parts but not all of the test will see their previous scores voided and have to begin again. That's led administrators in many states to begin warning their test clients now to complete their testing as soon as possible.

Pearson will require that the test be taken on computer, and only at Pearson's testing sites. That's led to worries about what will happen to people who aren't computer-literate or comfortable with computer-based tests. There are also concerns about how many test sites there will be, and how accessible they will be to people who don't have cars. As an adult education official with Virginia's Department of Education said, "The test-takers may have difficulty getting to the tests because there won't be as many access points."

The ACE says the revamping of the GED program is being done for the purpose of expanding access to it. But Nicole Chestang, executive director of the Council's GED program, was unable to answer a question from the Chronicle of Higher Education last March about how Pearson's involvement would affect the cost of the test to individuals, or to the states, who now lease it from ACE. (In 2010 the ACE grossed a little over $17 million from the GED program.) What the long-term results will be in terms of cost and service when a program so vital is subsumed by a profit-making corporation remains to be seen.

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My name is CT Turner, Director of Public Affairs here at GED Testing Service, and I've been a part of the organization for over four years. And, I'm proud of the work we have done and plan to do in order to help even more adults become career- and college-ready... to have the ability to support their families and earn as sustainable living wage.

With that in mind, I believe there are several points not quite on the mark in this piece that I'd love to discuss more -- but with limited space I'd like to focus on this issue of why the decision was made to form a joint venture between ACE and Pearson. I've pasted portions of a letter below that one of the organization's leaders recently sent, which I think explains it better than I could. I hope that readers will take the time to look at the information, then talk to your state Adult Education director of GED Administrator -- or visit our website at www.GEDtestingservice.com

"I’m happy to provide more information about why the leadership of the American Council on Education (ACE) and the GED Testing Service began to explore strategic partnerships and ultimately formed a new joint venture with Pearson.

First, allow me to address your concerns that Pearson controls our nation’s GED® testing program. You will be pleased to learn that GED Testing Service answers to its own board of directors, half of the members of which represent ACE and half Pearson.

In terms of why we formed the joint venture, in early 2010, leaders from GED Testing Service and ACE began to envision the next steps for the GED® testing program. Even a basic inquiry found statistics that pointed to a program that needed to evolve to better serve adult learners and reach the 39 million Americans without a high school credential. Around the country, testing centers were experiencing waiting lists and a lack of funding, and the test itself needed to be revised to best serve test-takers.

Facing these problems among others, it was clear that action needed to be taken. GED Testing Service needed to develop a new assessment system that would prepare even more adults to continue their education, start a new career, or advance their current career.

Clearly this new vision for the GED® testing program was ambitious and bold, and absolutely necessary for the success of adult learners and the economic sustainability of our country. No single group, be it government, nonprofit, or an education company, could do it alone. The success of such an undertaking demands big ideas and innovative solutions. ACE and GED Testing Service realized that a strategic partnership was necessary to move the testing program into its next state, one that provided expertise with technology and brought additional investment into the adult education system.

In March 2011, ACE and Pearson announced the launch of a newly formed joint venture, modeled after a public-private partnership, named GED Testing Service, LLC. While this is a new organizational structure with an expanded vision for the future, the organization is grounded in the same principles it was founded on in the 1940s. The new entity is dedicated to the original goal: transforming the lives of adult learners by offering a second chance at a high school diploma, and all the opportunities that come with it.

GED Testing Service is working hard to create the new test delivery and assessment system that will fundamentally influence and change adult education for the better. We are also working to create better test preparation opportunities and job transitions for adults earning a high school equivalency credential.

The testing service is also working tirelessly to become an advocate and partner for adult education and GED® testing. I believe that adult learners, GED® test-takers, the field of adult education and the country will benefit from this hard work and investment in the new testing program.

I hope that this helps shed more light on the importance of strategic partnerships and additional investment of time, people and resources in order to serve and adequately prepare even more adult learners for a better education and new career aspirations. "

Posted by CT Turner on 1.25.12 at 13:52
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