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The GED will soon attempt to measure college readiness as well as being the learning equivalent of a high-school diploma, thanks to an upgrade the GED Testing Service hopes will make it a substitute for the ACCUPLACER, a popular placement test used by community colleges.

Students who successfully complete a new college-readiness portion of the GED will have demonstrated that they don't need remediation or the ACCUPLACER, according to the service.

“We want them to be able to go right into credit-bearing courses,” said CT Turner, a spokesman for the service. Students who are deemed college-ready after taking the GED "should be able to enter and pass a credit-bearing course with a C or better."

Turner said ACCUPLACER, which is offered by the College Board and used by many community colleges, can be an unnecessary hurdle for students. A spokeswoman for the College Board, however, said ACCUPLACER "remains one of the best values available to colleges for determining student strengths and weaknesses," and that the test got its own upgrade last year, with the addition of a series of new assessment tools.

It's been a busy year for the GED. Last March the American Council of Education (ACE) and Pearson announced the creation of a jointly owned, for-profit subsidiary to manage the test, as well as a major redesign with a target launch date of 2014. The new GED will be fully computer-based and take seven hours to complete. It will include two primary assessments: the high school equivalency and a “college- and career-ready endorsement that recognizes adults who have demonstrated their readiness for the workplace and college programs,” according to the service.

That bifurcation is intended to put new emphasis on the importance of a college credential, making the GED part of the pathway to college instead of just a high school equivalent. And with its college-ready push, the GED is wading into an increasingly politicized debate over remedial education, which many feel is a desperately broken morass.

The problem is that only one in four community college students who place into remedial courses will earn a degree or transfer to a four-year institution, spending tuition money on courses that are not credit-bearing. And students often get discouraged on the remedial track, experts say.

Amid this backdrop, recently released research found that placement tests shunt too many students into remedial classes, including many who could successfully pass college-level courses.

The research, which was conducted by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College, was a harsh indictment of the ACCUPLACER, as well as COMPASS, which is administered by the ACT, Inc., and which is also used by community colleges to determine students' remedial needs. The two studies determined that the tests were inadequate predictors of college performance. High-school GPAs were a better guide, said the researchers, who called for multiple assessment measures.

“These tests are adding value,” said Clive R. Belfield, an associate professor of economics at Queens College and one of the study’s co-authors. “It’s just that they’re not adding as much value as they should.”

New tools the College Board recently incorporated into the test include the ability for colleges to input GPA and other variables, the College Board spokeswoman said, as well as various ways to customize the test and weigh a student's background and experience.

Even so, the two studies have received plenty of attention, and have been cited often by reformers who are calling for a national overhaul to how colleges handle remediation. In Connecticut, for example, the governor just signed legislation that allows public institutions to offer only one semester of remedial coursework and requires that students with remedial needs be placed into credit-bearing classes and given extra help, like tutoring. The research contributed to the bill’s creation, according to higher education officials in the state.

Still a 'One-Shot' Test

One of the main reasons it’s hard to improve remedial pass rates is because many students are unprepared academically when they arrive on campus, particularly at open-access community colleges and regional public universities. The new GED will attempt to help by determining which students are the prepared ones.

Of course, this change will only affect students who hold a GED instead of a high school diploma. The GED Testing Service has no plans to offer its college readiness assessment as a separate test, Turner said, and is busy working on the new assessment. “We’ve got a lot on our plate.”

The service is putting together a board of advisers to help with the test’s roll-out, and will tap representatives from community colleges and higher-education associations, among others. The board may help encourage community colleges to rely on the GED to gauge college readiness and skip the ACCUPLACER, at least for GED-holders.

Although it’s obviously too early to tell how well the still-developing test might work, Belfield said the college-readiness portion of the GED is unlikely to do a much better job than ACCUPLACER. That’s because the test will still be a “one-shot” assessment, where students have a single chance to demonstrate their ability.

“Our research has found that placement in college based on one test not a good idea,” he said. “Colleges need to get multiple measures.”

The new GED will be a more complex, harder test. It will draw from common core standards many states have adopted. And instead of being a pass-fail test, the GED will provide “enhanced score reporting.”

The test will be broken into subject areas for literacy, math, science and social studies. Students will need to meet a minimum score on all to earn high-school equivalency credentials, Turner said. But the college-readiness assessment will be subject-by-subject, meaning a student could place out of remedial math while not passing literacy, and require college remediation in English.

The fee structures for the ACCUPLACER and GED are different. The College Board charges institutions on a per-student basis for its placement test, which is generally free to students. The GED, however, is administered by states, which subsidize the test and pass some fees on to students. The GED's fees are likely to go up with the new, souped-up version, which has provoked some grumbling.

For decades the GED was administered solely by ACE, a nonprofit group that is higher education’s umbrella trade group. But the association joined last year with Pearson, one of the biggest, most influential companies in higher education, in part to help improve and expand the test.

“ACE realized they could not do it on their own,” Turner said.

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