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Missouri using new high school equivalency exam

RIP, GED.

After 72 years of using the GED to measure high school academic skills, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has implemented a new exam — the HiSET — to do the job.

As of Jan. 1, Missouri started using the HiSET — a battery of tests developed by Educational Testing Service — to determine high school equivalency. Registration is now underway at www.hiset.ets.org. (ETS is a private, not-for-profit organization based in New Jersey that develops standardized tests for a variety of purposes.)

Among the most significant changes is the transfer from a paper exam to a computer-based exam. The process for registering for the exam has also been updated — it’s now online — and the fee structure has changed significantly, said Tom Robbins, coordinator of Adult Education for DESE.

One aspect of the exam that has not changed is the fact it still is administered in a battery of five separate categories: writing, science, social studies, math and reading.

The GED was first developed for World War II military personnel who had enrolled in the service before completing high school. In November 1942, the U.S. Armed Forces Institute asked the American Council on Education to develop a battery of tests to measure high school-level academic skills so returning soldiers could earn the academic credentials they needed to get a civilian job or go to college.

Over the years, the test transitioned into a way to prove a person has attained knowledge equivalent to what is typically learned in high school.

Robbins said for decades, the state contracted with the Pearson VUE corporation to administer the GED. But when the company announced it was moving to computer-based process — and paper exams would no longer be offered — it opened the door to a new bidding process.

“We rebid the contract,” Robbins explained. “Before, there wasn’t any competition. This time, three companies put a bid in. The question was: Who should get the bid?”

The state ultimately gave the contract to the lowest bidder, ETS, to administer the HiSET exam, he said. The HiSET is a national exam, but one that meets Missouri’s academic standards. In Jefferson City, a HiSET testing site has been established in Stamper Hall on the Lincoln University campus.

One of the primary changes is how test-takers pay for the exam. Previously it cost $40 to take the GED one time. However, each time a participant wanted to retake it to earn a higher score, it cost another $40.

But, overall, the new test is more expensive.

Robbins said the most affordable way to take the HiSET is to pay $95 to buy the whole five-test battery. Participants get two free retests within a 12-month period from the date they purchased the exam. Of that amount, $10 goes to DESE to administer the program.

“If you don’t pass it the first time, you can take it two more times,” he said. “The day you schedule the battery starts a 12-month window.”

(However, test-takers should be aware they will still have to pay an additional $7 to the testing site each time they retake one of the subtests.)

It’s possible for participants to pay for individual subtests. But over time, that will be the more-expensive method, Robbins warned.

“The most cost-effective approach is to pay the $95 and pass the first time,” he said.

Another change test-takers will see is a difference in how questions are asked, because the new questions are designed to probe critical-thinking skills more deeply. But the basic knowledge hasn’t been altered significantly.

“Math is math. Science is science,” he said.

Historically, about 13,000 people take a high-school-equivalency exam in Missouri, and about 72 percent pass it.

People who would like help preparing for the test can find out more about free classes through DESE’s Adult Education office. Contact information can be found at ael.mo.gov.

In Jefferson City, the Adult Basic Literacy Education program, located at 501 Madison St., helps adults advance their literacy skills.

Robbins noted that even as Missouri transitions to the new HiSET exam, the GED isn’t going away because Pearson VUE still operates numerous testing locations across the state. Although Missouri will no longer issue a high-school-equivalent certification for passing the GED, Georgia will, Robbins noted.

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