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Meeting of the Board of Regents | November 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010 - 6:00am

SED Seal                                                                                   




AEWD / Strategic Planning Work Group


Kevin G. Smith


General Educational Development (GED) Program

Update and Discussion


November 1, 2010     


Goals 1 and 2




Issue for Discussion

To update the Board on the status of GED and to discuss long-term steps towards the development of a new statewide policy that would maintain student access and opportunities while providing for greater levels of student readiness and overall success rates.

Reason(s) for Consideration

At its March 2010 meeting, the Regents approved a short term action plan to address immediate budget shortfalls within the GED testing office.  In addition, the Board directed the Department to pursue long-term action steps that would result in a new statewide GED policy that would raise the overall New York pass rate, promote student opportunities for readiness and success, and address long-term funding issues.


Proposed Handling

This item will come before the Regents AEWD / Strategic Planning Work Group at its November, 2010 meeting.

Background Information

The Department’s GED program provides opportunities for thousands of New Yorkers to earn a New York State High School Equivalency Diploma.  More than ever, a high school diploma or the equivalent serves as the gateway to higher education, apprenticeship and post secondary training leading to employment and career opportunities. 

New York
leads the nation in access to the GED test

In 2008, New York State provided opportunities for the nation’s largest number of out-of-school youth and adults to earn a high school equivalency diploma by conducting over 58,000 GED test administrations. In 2009, New York administered 55,589 tests, just slightly behind California.  New York also has the greatest number of testing centers to provide access for our diverse student population. New York State Education Department supports these unfettered opportunities by being one of only two states to not charge a test taking fee or to require readiness prerequisites.  However, these enhanced opportunities have contributed to NYS having one of the lowest GED pass rates in the nation.  

More test takers unprepared than prepared

New York GED test takers fall into three categories:

  1. Students referred by Department funded preparation programs.  Some test takers are officially referred by Department-funded programs after passing an Official Practice Test that confirms their readiness. All official referrals include a Testing Authorization Form (TAF) that provides student demographics and shows readiness by indicating that the student has passed the Official Practice Test at the minimum level required by the American Council on Education. 
  1. Students referred by preparation programs not funded by the Department.  Unfunded preparation programs, although coded and tracked, are not screened by the Department for effectiveness.  As a result, we  do not have a clear picture of the effectiveness of these programs.  Approximately 33 percent of test takers came from one of these two types of preparation programs.
  1. Students self-referred (walk-in students).  About 67 percent of New York’s test takers are not officially referred by preparation programs.   The pass rates for these test takers are far below rates for students from Department-funded preparation programs.  New York is unique in that self-referred test takers are more common than those referred from either funded or unfunded preparation programs. 

Declining Funds to Support the GED System

Enacted Budget appropriation language through 2006-07 specified a minimum amount of the Department’s General Fund P-12 appropriation that had to be spent on GED test administration.  Even though this language was eliminated, the Department continued to allocate $3.9 million of it General Fund P-12 appropriation for GED test administration in 2007-08 and 2008-09. 

Subsequent State budget cuts resulted in a reduction in General Fund support for GED to $2.7 million for 2009-10 and to $2.4 million in 2010-11.  The original 2010-11 budget level did not provide adequate funding for the GED testing program. Faced with this immediate funding urgency, the Department recommended a short-term action plan that the Board considered and approved at its March 2010 Meeting.

That action plan included the following initiatives:

1. Budget Request:  The Regents had already submitted a $2 million budget request.  Of this, $1 million was approved to fund current operations ($900,000) and support an online GED test registration program ($100,000). 

2.  Request to Use Federal WIA Funds:  The Department would request approval from the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) for limited use of WIA funds to support special accommodations of GED test administrations.  This request was made and denied.

3.  Suspend Funding of $20 Reimbursement Contracts:  The Department would notify test centers that the $20 per tester reimbursement would be suspended effective July 1, 2010, although certain related costs would continue to be covered.

4.   Secure Additional Approvals from DOB to Access GED Revenue Funds: The Department had requested from the Division of the Budget authority to withdraw additional funds from the GED special revenue account, which is funded by fees for transcripts and diplomas, to replace reductions to General Fund support. DOB provided one-time approval to spend  $650,000 from the revenue account and up to $1.0 million from the Education Assessment Account.  This funding allowed the Department to resume the $20 reimbursement contracts effective August 12, 2010.

Data, Goals, and Statewide Policy Development

Pursuant to the Board's action at the March 2010 meeting, the Department is moving forward to develop and implement a new statewide policy on GED testing.  The overarching approach is to continue open access and availability of GED testing for 50,000 or more New Yorkers. The focus is to raise the GED pass rate by expanding test taker readiness: through high quality preparation programs; increased and more accurate pre-test administration and reporting; and greater access to readiness screening and online curricula.

The specific goal is to move the overall New York pass rate from one of the lowest in the nation (53.8% in 2009) to the national average (69.4% in 2009) and beyond over time.  New York is committed to reach the national pass rate of 69.4% for test takers and then continue to increase its pass rate annually.

The data on passing rates for GED test takers indicate that the largest factors between students who score proficiently on the GED and those that do not is access to high quality preparation programs and the pre-test administration of the Official Preparation Test (OPT) or other test readiness assessment. Of the 55,589 students who took the GED in 2009, approximately 67% did not report attending a prep program.   In 2009, the pass rate for students who did not report attending a prep program was 44%.  For students who had reported that they had access to a GED prep program, their pass rate was 66%.  Test takers who had no OPT scores indicated on their records show a passing rate in 2009 of just 38.3%.  Test takers who had reported OPT scores show a pass rate for this same period of 57.1%.

The validity and reliability of the OPT test administration process is critical in correlating accurate student alignment between OPT scores and GED test results.  A policy to enhance access to the OPT and other pre-tests to promote greater student readiness for the GED will need to include professional development, valid and independent pre-test administration practices, accountability, and monitoring of OPT testing practices at local preparation programs. 

Steps to Reform New York’s GED testing System to Ensure that Out of School Youth and Adults Succeed in College and Career Opportunities

The Regents College and Career Readiness Workgroup charged SED with developing immediate and long-term strategies to reform the system.  Ensuring readiness for GED success lies at the heart of these strategies. This includes addressing a major challenge as early as 2014 when the 5th version of the GED test will be aligned with common core standards.  These rigorous standards will require a dramatic lift in the skills needed for passing the GED.  For example, test takers will need to understand trigonometry as compared to the current standard which requires algebra. 

To meet this charge, the Department needs to pursue five parallel strategies. 

  • Raise performance for all SED-funded preparation programs to ensure effective readiness for college and careers.
  • Raise standards for the OPT:  The current OPT standard of 2250 is correlated with only a 44.9% success rate on the GED test.  Raising the minimum score to 2500 with minimum sub-test scores of 450 on the five sub-tests is correlated with an 67.4% success rate.
  • Set minimum GED pass rate of at least 70 percent for all funded programs:  Preparation program effectiveness varies by region and program due to such factors as incorrect use of the OPT to inform instruction, insufficient training of teachers, and poor data management.
  • Connect data systems to better assess performance and make that information available through public report cards. Federal literacy funding might be used to connect our GED data base with an online student data and reporting system being used for literacy.  Other technologies could  also be connected to establish a seamless data system allowing for quicker identification and attention to issues.  This data can be summarized in program report cards available to the public online.
  • Provide intensive targeted technical assistance for all programs under 70 percent pass rate with priority on large under-performing programs.
  • Institute corrective action leading to defunding for persistently under-performing programs.
  • Prepare for the 5th version of the GED test by investing in online curricula, training provided by national experts and seven Regional Adult Education Network centers, and working closely with the US Department of Education and adult education leaders in other states.
  • Invest in postsecondary and career transition programs, and evaluate and disseminate best practice so that GED test takers can better obtain the skills needed for good jobs and a quality of life in New York.  New York is preparing a $6 million request for proposals to fund 17 postsecondary transition programs for students in GED preparation programs or already with the GED but in need of readiness to pass college entrance examinations and succeed in college.  New York is one of eight states selected by USDOE to develop postsecondary transition policies and programs.  Statewide summits for postsecondary and career transition will be held in 2010 and 2011, co-sponsored with SUNY, CUNY, and DOL.
  • Invest in comprehensive efforts to develop effective education pipelines in rural and urban neighborhoods of concentrated poverty or limited English language proficiency: By March 1, 2011, New York will have a network of 35 literacy zones in all Big Five cities, geographically spread across the State, that provides comprehensive services and pathways out of poverty, including GED information and postsecondary transition programs for GED students.  In 2011, capacity building in 35 literacy zones will focus on raising GED and postsecondary success, especially black and Hispanic males.
  • Pilot new technologies like Learner Web to support career pathways for GED students:  New York was just awarded $500,000 in broadband access funding to implement Learner Web, an online learning tool for adults that leads them on a path to resources, postsecondary and community services.  It is a virtual system that enables instructors, case managers, college advisors, literacy volunteers, and agency case workers to follow, support, and guide the learner’s pathway. 
  • Raise performance and ensure greater consumer protection for students being prepared by programs not funded by SED.
  • Require all students to have or complete a TAF at test centers.  This will for the first time ensure a comprehensive data picture of those test takers who have been referred by non-SED funded preparation programs.
  • Provide performance information to potential test takers and the public. As part of a consumer information and consumer protection initiative, the Department could require these prep programs to also report their OPT scores and align them with GED scores through ASISTS.  Similar to the existing Adult Education Report Cards, the Department would be able to issue performance rates (i.e., GED pass rates) for these centers for students to review as a basis for selecting a prep program.
  • Establish criteria for coding unfunded GED preparation programs and link this standard to test results of referrals. Armed with these data, New York State Education Department may inform consumers on program quality.
  • Ensure readiness for all test takers, including any self-referrals.
  • Expand capacity to screen for readiness and upgrade skills for students not coming from preparation programs by establishing a GED success network.  Making online curricula and pretesting available on a greater scale to as many as 40,000 or more New Yorkers is critical to raising the pass rate for New York and ensuring success on the GED and beyond.  State Education Department is aggressively pursuing steps to make this investment through federal WIA funding.  Once this capacity is fully realized, the Department will be able to require that all students have certification or sufficient evidence of "GED Readiness for Success" as a prerequisite to gaining admission to a GED testing center.
  • Replicate the GED Assessment Project (GAP) for several areas in New York State. The GAP program, which has been in existence since March 2002, was developed by the Queens Educational Opportunity Center and has assisted approximately 5,346 participants in taking the Official Practice Test (OPT) as well as introducing them to the details of the overall GED Testing process.  Increasing both the quantity and quality of prep programs and OPT administration will be the central point on this initiative.
  • Connect comprehensively with state agency and education partners to disseminate GED information.  SED is working closely with DOL and workforce partners such as the New York City Small Business Services (SBS) to provide screening and information.  There are additional opportunities through libraries, Even Start programs, vocational rehabilitation programs and independent living centers, proprietary schools, Education Opportunity Centers, for example.  Bilingual Technical Assistance Centers' could work with the parents of K-12 students of limited English proficiency to guide them to adult education programs, including classes that assist them in becoming more involved in their child’s education and English language acquisition/ GED preparation programs.
  • Invest in GED Compass to provide referral and reservations to GED test sites.  SED is working to expand GED compass statewide through the $100,000 investment provided by the state legislature in 2010.   SED will continue to develop and improve GED Compass as an on-line student information and registration tool.  GED Compass is now in use for NYC students and the Department is continuing its efforts with the Literacy Assistance Center to expand GED Compass for use throughout the State.
  • Maintain adequate funding for GED test administration.
  • State budget request to support GED testing:  While these critical components of a new statewide GED testing policy should increase New York's pass rate and lower our testing costs, the Department will still need additional funds to maintain current test administration contracts for the 2011-12 fiscal year.  The Board supported a $700,000 budget priority item to make sure that test administration statewide can continue uninterrupted.
  • Engage policymakers, the field, and expertise from other states in the reform effort.                                   
  • Engage stakeholders including representatives from SUNY and CUNY to identify strategies to improve GED pass and college graduation rates.
  • Benchmark best practice. SED will review and research GED preparation and test administration practices and protocols of states with high pass rates such as Iowa and Delaware, and states with similar student demographics to New York like California, Florida, and Illinois.


The Board of Regents will continue to support the initiatives and development of a new GED statewide testing policy.

Timetable for Implementation

With Regents support, the described activities will continue to move forward.