Why the number of GED test takers is declining in Texas


The number of GED test takers has declined by 21 percent in a five-year period.

The cost of the GED test is $145.

The GED exam became more rigorous in 2014, causing the test administrator to lower the score to pass.

The number of Texans who took GED tests declined by 21 percent from 2012 to 2016, a consequence of the test’s high cost and its difficulty, according to a new study released Monday.

More test takers also failed the General Educational Development tests, a battery of exams designed to measure high school equivalency — about 30 percent fewer people had passed during the five-year period examined by the Austin-based liberal think tank Center for Public Policy Priorities. In 2016, 21,430 GED test takers passed.

“Texas really does have a GED problem. We tend to lead the nation in the number of adults without a high school credential or equivalency. If you don’t even have a high school diploma, you’re pretty much locked out of any kind of career or educational advancement in our current economy,” said Chandra Villanueva, a senior policy analyst with the organization who herself earned a GED certificate and went on to receive bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

An estimated 3 million Texas adults do not have a GED or a high school diploma, or 17.6 percent of the population over age 25, suggesting that the number of GED test takers should be greater, Villanueva said. In 2016, 39,797 Texans took the test.

But like the rest of the nation, the numbers of test takers and of those passing the tests in Texas generally have been on the decline since 2003. An exception was in 2013 when those numbers leaped dramatically in anticipation of changes to the test that made it more difficult, but in 2014 the numbers plummeted to the lowest levels in recent years. The numbers of GED test takers and those passing haven’t yet recovered.

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The organization points to a couple of major reasons for the decline. One is the test has become more difficult and contributing to that difficulty is the computerization of the GED exam, which puts at a disadvantage many test takers who don’t have access to computers or don’t know how to use them, according to the study.

In response to the exam’s greater difficulty, the company that administers the test decreased the cutoff score and made it retroactive to those who have taken the test since 2014.

Kevin Roberts, executive vice president of the Austin-based conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation, said he supports increasing people’s ability to take the test, but he doesn’t want to lessen its rigor.

“If you ask me the question, ‘Is it good for Texas that we make the GED as accessible as possible?’ Absolutely. If you ask me the question, ‘Is it good that we diminish the standard of the GED?’ Of course we would think that’s terrible,” said Roberts, who is a former educator. “Whether someone is a high school graduate or they have successfully completed the GED, that, along with the composition of their family, are the two most important factors to flourishing economically.”

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Another factor in the decline is the high cost of the tests, up to $145. In 2016, the State Board of Education approved two more tests in addition to the GED exam that Texans can take to earn high school equivalency certification. Because it would cost more to score three different tests, the board increased the administrative fee from $15 to $25, bringing the cost to take the full GED test up to $145.

The other tests are less expensive, but one of them didn’t go into effect until this month.

Villanueva said that Texas should follow the example of some other states and subsidize the cost of the GED test.

She also recommends state officials ensure that all counties have testing centers; collect more data on test takers, including their long-term outcomes; expand computer literacy for adults; and recognize that a test taker who scores a certain level on the test should be considered college-ready so that they don’t have to take remedial classes if they decide to go to college.

The study does not address whether the state’s improving high school graduation rate — 89.1 percent in 2016, the latest data available — has contributed to the decline in GED test takers, but Villanueva said the ratio of GED test takers to Texas adults without such a certification or diploma shows that Texas isn’t “scratching the surface of what the need is.”

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