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Preliminary numbers released Monday showed a slight dip in the percentage of students passing New York’s new high school equivalency exam, while the number of New Yorkers taking the test dropped by almost half from two years ago.
In 2014, about 50 percent of New Yorkers who took the new exam passed, down from 54 percent of those who took former exam, the GED, in 2012. The number of test takers last year dropped to 24,442, down 45 percent from 44,200 in 2012.
(In 2013, the last year of the more familiar and formerly less difficult GED exam, the number of test takers surged to 52,934, the most since 2008, and 59 percent passed.)
Last year, new high school equivalency exams were introduced nationwide in an effort to update the decade-old General Educational Development (GED) test and align it with new high school standards, known as the Common Core, adopted by a majority of states. A few states, including New York, opted out of the revised GED and are administering a new alternative — the Test Assessing Secondary Completion, or TASC — also linked to Common Core.
While the revised GED has a $120 price tag and must be taken on a computer, the 2014 TASC costs only $54 for the complete exam, can still be taken on paper and will incorporate the new tougher standards more gradually over three years.
“It’s a good test,” New York State Education Deputy Commissioner Kevin Smith said Monday, while acknowledging that some improvements are still necessary.
“We hear all the time that there are questions on this exam that are way too difficult and are not appropriate, even for the traditional high school system,” he said.
Related: The GED is out and Common Core is in
A report from Smith to the state Board of Regents released Monday states that the agency has worked closely with McGraw-Hill, the company that designed the test, to give guidance on the content and difficulty of the exam. The impact of that input “should be seen in the 2015 and 2016 versions of the test,” the report states. A new version of the test will be released by McGraw-Hill in the next few months; there will also be “minor changes” to the scores required to pass the exam.
While pass rates in New York are lower than the national average (50 percent compared with 60 percent nationally), state officials note that the overall decline in scores on the high school equivalency exam statewide was about four percentage points, much less than the decline in states where the GED was offered. Similarly, while the number of New York test takers declined in 2014 by 45 percent compared with 2012, the number of test takers in states offering the GED dropped by an average of 63 percent.
The report also acknowledges the challenge of preparing 5,500 adult education instructors to teach the new tougher standards. So far, the report states, 49 Master Teachers have been trained who, in turn, have trained 662 instructors.
Smith said more resources would help to bring pass rates up.
“If you’re asking me if I think we should invest more in this population,” said Smith. “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.”
This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.