Why do we even need a high school equivalency test?
Many experienced educators and many parents are completely opposed to standardized testing. They properly point out that standardized tests are not reliable or valid in accurately assessing the knowledge possessed by students. I have a Master's Degree in Education and I am fully aware of the research that confirms this concern. However, many business leaders insist on having some sort of objective standardized test to assess how well students and schools are doing – no matter how unreliable the test might be. Some students who may have dropped out of high school for a variety of reasons also need standardized tests as an alternative way to prove to employers that they possess knowledge and skills that are the equivalent of a high school diploma. Thus, there is a need for a high school equivalency test.
Which High School Equivalency Test?
Since the 1940's, the most common high school equivalency test has been the General Education Development certificate, more commonly known as the GED. I personally did not have a problem with this test until it was dramatically revised to align immediately with the Common Core standards in January 2014. I am appalled that struggling at risk students who want and need to get their GED are being forced to be tested on Common Core mathematical methods that they were never exposed to in school. This is extremely unfair as in my opinion, their chances of passing the Math portion of the new 2014 GED are very low.
Thankfully, there are two other alternatives, called HiSET and TASC that are making a wiser and more gradual transition to Common Core standards – in keeping with the fact that it will take students a few years to understand the different way that Common Core treats math. I understand that many people oppose the Common Core new math curriculum. I agree that Common Core is ridiculous and is not supported by any credible scientific research. But Common Core is supported by billionaires who control our political system. It therefore will have to be dealt with by our students. It is better to have a gradual transition to Common Core math than a sudden transition. Thus, either HiSET or TASC would be better and fairer than the 2014 GED test.
HiSET and TASC offer many other benefits over the 2014 GED besides being much fairer to students. They are half the price and they are available in both a computer version and a paper and pencil version. The GED is only available in a computer version.
On the surface, it appears that HiSET or TASC are nearly identical. However, I have spent many years studying the design and construction of test questions. In my opinion, HiSET is a much better test than TASC. Below is a chart that explains some of the important differences. After the chart, I will go into some of the details of why HiSET is a better alternative than either the 2014 GED or the 2014 TASC.
Comparison of 2014 High School Equivalency Tests
|Developed and Distributed by
||U of Iowa
College of Education
For Profit Corporation
For Profit Corporation
||Pay for Retests
|Fair Tested using actual high school students to confirm it is fair
|Scientifically Based to be Reliable and Valid
|Difficulty of Math Questions
|Alignment with Common Core Standards
Educators write better tests the Wall Street Hedge Fund Managers
To begin with the University of Iowa College of Education has an excellent reputation for developing accurate, reliable and scientifically valid educational tests. This may not mean much to the general public or to political leaders. But it means a great deal to someone like me who has a degree in Science Education and believes in using the scientific method to design tests. By comparison, my experience with private for profit corporations is that they care very little about the scientific method. All they care about is maximizing short term profits.
Price is important when you have no money
The second factor is price. This is very important because most young adults who are taking these tests are either unemployed or working for a minimum wage. They simply cannot afford paying $120 for the first test and another $60 for a retest and another $60 for a practice test and another $200 for courses to prepare them to take or retake the test.
Not everyone has access to a computer
The third factor is is access. HiSET and TASC are can be taken the old fashioned way with paper and pencil while the GED is only available online. One may wonder why we still need a paper and pencil test. It is not merely that older people are not good with computers. It is also that many poor people do not have access to computers. They therefore may fail the test simply because they did not know how to use the computer. A “computer only” test therefore discriminates against the elderly and the poor.
Free Training and Free Practice Tests Increase Chances of Success
The fourth and very important factor is the availability of free practice tests and free training materials. The HiSET practice tests and training materials are much better than either those offered by the new GED or TASC. Having free access to better training materials will greatly increase the chances that students will pass the test. The following is a quote from the HiSET website:
“The HiSET program offers a free practice test for each subtest. Test takers can experience what it is like to take the HiSET exam with these free, 30–45-minute practice tests. Each subtest is half the length of the actual subtest and includes directions and tips as well as an answer key. Questions are similar to those on the tests, so test takers get an indication of their readiness and where they need to improve. Download the practice tests. Test takers can familiarize themselves with the types of questions that appear on the five subtests. Correct answers with explanations are included. Download the Sample Questions “
The Fairness Factor
The fifth factor is what I call the Fairness Factor. On the HiSET website, they point out that they made special efforts to make sure that the HiSET test is fair to minorities in terms of language usage and test subjects. However, there is an even more fundamental fairness factor. The whole point of the Equivalency Test is to provide employers with an assurance that the person who passes this test has equivalent knowledge and skills of a high school graduate. It therefore MUST be normed on actual high school students and high school graduates for it to be a reliable and valid test. The University of Iowa group does a much better job of this that either of the private corporations.
Below is a quote from the HiSET website:
“The items that are included in the HiSET exam are pilot-tested, validated and normed on graduating high school juniors and seniors. Item types include both multiple-choice and essay questions. Three equated forms of the HiSET exam are available each calendar year to accommodate retakes. Scores are issued for each subtest and for the total battery. The passing standard is configured at the 40th percentile. A robust database of record will be maintained for stakeholder reference.” https://hiset.ets.org/states_educators/about/overview
I agree that the 40th percentile is a reasonable and fair standard to use for test item construction and evaluation of students. I have reviewed the research they have provided and the HiSET test is a scientifically valid test.
The final factor is the fairness and relevance of the actual test questions.
I have been a math instructor both in Middle School, High School and College. I am acutely aware that poorly written test questions can be misleading and are unfair to students. I therefore read all of the sample test questions available for all three tests. The worst questions were the ones on the 2014 GED. Many were terribly misleading. The BASC questions were much better. But some of them were not well written. By contrast, nearly every HiSET math question was clear, concise and well written in that it provided the student with a fair opportunity to answer the question. I also reviewed the subject matter of each question in terms of its real life relevance to students. Once again, the HiSET questions were much better than the GED or BASC questions.
What about the other subject areas? Why such a focus on math?
The reason math is important is because this that math is the subject which gives struggling students the most difficulty. About half of all students who take the GED fail to pass and the primary reason they fail to pass is that they fail the math section of the GED. This was true even before the GED was made a lot harder. I am not an expert on any subjects other than math and science and I did not evaluate any of the three tests for any questions other than the math questions. While is is possible that the GED or TASC may be better than HiSET in other subjects, I think it is more likely that the obvious care and dedication that HiSET authors put into the math section questions were likely also put into the test questions in the other sections of the test. This is the benefit of having test questions designed by professional educators. You simply get a better test.
Many States agree that HiSET is the Affordable, Accessible Alternative
With the disastrous release of the 2014 GED, many States began looking for alternatives. Fourteen have already adopted the HiSET test as an approved option. These states are Iowa (big surprise there), Colorado, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Texas, Tennessee, and Wyoming.
Why hasn't Washington State joined this list?
In Washington State, the High School Equivalency test program is administered by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. https://www.sbctc.ctc.edu/public/y_ged.aspx
According to friends of mine, the state board has not solicited feedback from the community of GED instructors in our state. In fact, the State Board has discouraged feedback. I have put in phone calls to the State Board which have thus far gone unanswered.
We are therefore taking our case for fairness to the community of parents and other concerned citizens with the hope that you will join with us in demanding that our struggling students be given a fairer opportunity to receive a high school equivalence certificate which they can then use to get a reasonably good job. I look forward to your questions and feedback.
David Spring M. Ed.