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First step taken toward student choice in high school equivalency exams

The Colorado Department of Education has gotten the green light to open negotiations with three companies that offer high school equivalency tests, potentially offering more choice to people who want to gain that credential.

Only one company – GED – is currently allowed to offer the exams in Colorado. Since test costs were increased and the tests put on computer in 2014, the number of state students taking and passing the tests has dropped 75 percent, according to reporting by Rocky Mountain PBS I-News.

Some Coloradans have gone to Wyoming or other neighboring states to take less expensive exams offered by other testing companies.

The State Board of Education on Wednesday adopted new regulations that allow the state to certify multiple providers of equivalency exams. On Thursday the board voted 4-3 to allow CDE staff to negotiate contracts with the three companies that offer the GED (General Educational Development), HiSET (High School Equivalency Test and TASC (Test Assessing Secondary Completion) exams.

The board’s vote doesn’t necessarily mean all three tests will become available to Coloradans. As a CDE briefing paper noted, if “we are successful in negotiating contracts with multiple vendors, institutions of higher education would still have the ability to decide what credential they would accept as a reflection of college readiness. Similarly, testing centers would be able to decide which exams they would offer.”

The department has three months to negotiate the contracts. Approved contracts would be in effect for three years.

Some board members were skeptical about the move.

“I’d like to go deeply into the contracts … and look deeply in the whole privacy issue,” said Republican Debora Scheffel of Parker, a regular critic of big testing companies who brings up her worries about data privacy frequently.

The GED test is partly owned by Pearson, the multi-national testing company that is a favorite villain for many testing critics.

The issue of equivalency test choice raised wide concerns among the adult education community. The department received a heavy volume of comments on the issue. During public comment sessions during Wednesday’s board meeting, a long list of witnesses urged that testing choices be expanded. Only one witness suggested that GED be retained as the sole test available in Colorado.

Colorado has 85 testing centers that offer equivalency exams and test preparation help. Some 40 of those centers are in correctional facilities. Centers typically are independent organizations but contract with testing companies to offer specific exams.

For more details on the three exams, see this CDE comparison based on comments by a panel that reviewed the tests.