PISCATAWAY, N.J. (February 5, 2018) – The number of New Jersey adults taking the high school equivalency test plunged from nearly 17,000 in 2013 to fewer than 9,000 in 2015 and 2016 after the exam underwent sweeping changes, according to a report by the Center for Women and Work at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. The number of New Jerseyans who passed the test and received a diploma dropped from nearly 11,000 to fewer than 5,000 during that same span. (Full report here)
“This does not bode well for the state’s poorest residents,” said Karen White, Director of Policy Analysis and Community Engagement at the Rutgers Center for Women and Work. “For adults who do not complete high school, passing a high school equivalency test is the only way to receive a diploma—the bare minimum requirement for most New Jersey jobs and military admission. Those who manage to find work earn almost 60 percent less on average than workers with a diploma.”
The non-profit American Council on Education administered New Jersey’s only high school equivalency test, the General Education Development (GED) test, for more than 50 years before entering a public-private partnership with Pearson VUE. They unveiled a new exam in March 2014 with major changes:
- Content – The test became more demanding, aligning with Common Core State Standards.
- Delivery – A computer-based test, requiring basic computer skills, replaced pencil and paper.
- Cost – Now a for-profit product, the test jumped in price from $50 to $120 (including fees).
Though New Jersey approved two tests as alternatives – Education Testing Service’s HiSET and McGraw Hill’s TASC – both are in the $90 range. Like the GED test, they are computer-based and more rigorous per Common Core State Standards. In the first two years after the changes took effect, the number of New Jerseys taking high school equivalency test plummeted.
Data not comparable; changes took effect partway through the year
*Data for 2015 and 2016 include all three HSE Tests (GED, HiSET, and TASC).
*Data for 2017 are not yet available.
GED Testing Service calculates the passing rate as a percentage of test takers who completed all subsets of the exam. Viewed this way, the passing rate increased from approximately 68 percent in 2013 to 75 percent in 2016. However, the steep drop in the number of people taking and completing the test heavily skews the statistics. Calculated as a percentage of overall test takers, the passing rate declined from approximately 64 percent in 2013 to just under 54 percent in 2016.
“The current program leaves far too many of New Jersey’s adult learners behind,” said Elaine Zundl, Research Director at the Rutgers Center for Women and Work. “More than 256,000 adults in New Jersey do not have a high school diploma and 20 percent of them are living below the poverty line. We need to focus on how to make the test more affordable and accessible for the people who need it the most: low-income working families.”
The Rutgers Center for Women and Work’s report, New Jersey High School Equivalency Test: More Test Options, Less Opportunity, also raises concerns about transportation and language barriers facing some low-income adult learners. While New Jersey has increased the number of high school equivalency test locations from 32 to 52 since 2013, with more testing sites in urban areas and more tests available in Spanish, some rural areas with high poverty rates remain underserved.
There is only one test center in Cumberland County, where 23.5 percent of adults did not complete high school and 18 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Likewise, there is just one test center in Atlantic County, where 15.3 percent of adults have no high school diploma and 11.9 percent of the population lives in poverty. The test is not available in Spanish in either county.
The report offers the following recommendations to the New Jersey Department of Education:
- Lower the GED passing score from 150 to 145; among states that offer the test, only N.J. and Tennessee still require a score of 150 or more to pass
- Explore scholarships and subsidies to defray test costs for low-income adult learners; only one test center (Eastwick College in Essex County) currently provides the test at no cost
- Certify additional test centers in rural and hard-to-reach communities
- Locate test centers near public transportation
- Publish a centralized source of information to help potential test takers understand their options
- Conduct additional research and evaluation to ensure the program is reaching its goals
White, Zundl, and Rutgers Center for Women and Work interns Zoe Heard and Pranay Sinha co-authored the report with support from the Working Poor Families Project (WPFP), a national initiative that seeks to strengthen state policies on behalf of low-income working families. WPFP is funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Ford Foundation, Joyce Foundation, and W.E. Kellogg Foundation.
Steve Flamisch, Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations
848.252.9011 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org
The Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations is the world’s leading source of expertise on managing and representing workers, designing effective organizations, and building strong employment relationships. The Center for Women and Work is a leader in research, education, and programs that promote economic and social equity for women workers, their families, and their communities.