GED Faces Changes, Competition In Tennessee

Jul 22, 2013

Credit Sergio Rivas. Used under Flickr Creative Commons license.

The GED, or General Education Development diploma, will change in January 2014, becoming more difficult, costing twice as much to take and moving to an online-only format. It will also face competition from another test. 

The anticipated changes appear to be having an effect: In Sevier County, The Mountain Press reports the adult education program saw the highest number of students earning a GED diploma this year - a record 200 certificates earned, the largest group for a single year in the 26 years the facility’s been in service. And in Knox County, Friends of Literacy office manager Heather Floan says they’ve been taking calls all summer about their free GED classes.

“It’s a 40 percent increase over the previous summer,” she says.

But she says not all of the calls are from people who are worried about the coming changes. Pellissippi State Community College was offering free GED preparation classes, but the program ended this year. 

“I don’t have exact numbers, but a percentage of that, [the] increased calls, is from people who were in the Pellissippi class system who were looking for another class to get to,” Floan says. 

Whenever she takes a call, Floan says she always reminds callers that the GED is changing this year - although she says she and the Friends of Literacy staff didn’t know until “a few months ago” exactly what those changes would look like.

“We were set to encourage people to go ahead and complete their GED classes - or start their GED classes - to try and get in under the old rules,” she says. “Knox County has decided to go with a new high school equivalency test, the HiSET, so everything’s up in the air. So while it’s been on our mind, we’re still just doing everything we can to support people who are interested in obtaining their GED without really being able to strategize because the details are being hammered out.”

The HiSET  high school equivalency test is a product from Educational Testing Services, while the GED Testing Service is a Pearson product.  Amy Riker, director of the ETS HiSET program, says testing centers will be able to choose between the tests they’ll offer; if testing centers choose to offer both, students will make the choice. Riker says by 2015, that choice system could suss out whether one test is more popular than the other.

In Knox County, Don Lawson, Director of Career, Technical and Adult Education for Knox County Schools, says the Tennessee Department of Education is asking centers to use HiSET; Knox County's testing center will use the test because it will likely be less expensive and will retain a paper test option.

"We wanted to offer what was best for students," he says, explaining that many students who currently take the GED already have trouble paying the $60 fee. The GED is expected to cost $120 in January. 

"We thought that may be a deterrent," he says, "especially because some of the people that come in are unemployed." He adds that other students may not have regular access to a computer - prison inmates, for example, and lower-income students - which could make an online-only test harder to take. 

"It's hard enough to sit for the current GED," he says. 

Lawson says Tennessee's decision to go with the HiSET is still so recent that the details about how the new testing program will work are still nebulous. This month, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development consolidated adult education programs in all 95 Tennessee counties to 46, effective July 1. High school equivalency testing is typically handled through state-funded adult education programs.

Although Pelissippi stopped offering free GED classes, the college is a current GED testing facility and will likely remain one, Lawson says, while Knox County Schools makes the transition. But Lawson says KCS will still offer training classes for both the HiSET and the GED to reach both students. In the meantime, Lawson says Knox County testing centers are still offering the GED to current students working to earn an equivalency degree before the January 2014 deadline. 

According to Educational Testing Services, Tennessee is the third US state to sign on to the HiSET testing program; the state follows New Hampshire and Montana, although Inside Higher Ed reports Iowa, Florida and Mississippi are expected to announce their decisions soon.