GED Exam to Get Facelift in 2014

New GED exam will set benchmarks for high school equivalency and college readiness.

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For years, the General Educational Development (GED) test helped provide adults who dropped out of high school with the equivalent of a high school diploma. Now, the American Council on Education (ACE), the developer of the test, is setting its sights on a loftier goal: higher education.

Starting in 2014, the organization, which is made up of about 1,800 degree-granting colleges, will make changes to the test with the goal of encouraging adults to continue studying for an associate's or bachelor's degree.

Since its inception in 1942, when it was used to demonstrate high school equivalency for World War II veterans, some 18 million people have passed the GED. Approximately 400,000 people pass the exam each year. GED test takers generally aren't recent high school dropouts: People who pass the GED have been out of school for an average of eight years.

[Learn about improving high school graduation rates.]

The new "GED 21st Century Initiative" will have two levels of achievement: the traditional high school equivalency standard, and a "career- and college-readiness" benchmark.

The test's five subject areas—writing, social studies, science, reading, and math—will be revised to more closely reflect Common Core State Standards, a set of English and mathematics standards and topics that students are expected to learn. So far, 45 states and Washington, D.C. have adopted the standards. The new GED exam will also move from paper to digital, but test takers will still have to go to one of the more than 3,000 official testing centers in the United States and Canada.

Specific scores to attain each level of proficiency have not yet been established, but the changes come as a response to changing economic conditions that have made it harder for high school dropouts to get jobs. Molly Corbett Broad, president of ACE, said in a statement that the new test will provide a "fresh approach toward solving an old and pernicious problem—the incredible waste of human talent represented by the millions of Americans who lack a high-school diploma."

[Learn why vocational, technical high schools are experiencing a renaissance.]

New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman said at a public appearance in Washington, D.C. last week that there are very few jobs available for people without high school diplomas. Friedman was promoting his new book, That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back.

"If you do not have a high school degree that allows you to get through college without significant remediation, there is literally nothing for you," he said.

An April report by the Alliance for Excellent Education found that if half of the class of 2010's 1.3 million high school dropouts had graduated, America would have gained some $7.3 billion in annual potential earnings.

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