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Editorial: Privatized GED has failed students, should be changed

By Longview News-Journal
July 22, 2015 at 4 a.m.


Privatization of government functions often makes sense. That's why it's being explored from the federal government in Washington all the way down to school districts in East Texas.

The process is slow — both out of caution and because of objections from government employees about losing their jobs. Slow is good, because when privatization doesn't work out, it tends to be more than a little bit of a problem.

Privatization of prisons, for instance, has not been a success. Incarceration for profit probably should have been seen as a bad idea from the start.

Now, we learn that privatization of GED testing — the high school equivalency exam — has led to a drastic decline in the number of people passing the test and in the number even trying to take it.

Across Texas, the number of people taking the test declined by nearly 45 percent since it was privatized. Only 30 percent of those passed — half what the passing rate had been. At the East Texas Literacy Council in Longview, those who were able to pass the GED test fell from 73 in 2013 to just five in 2014.

Five.

Among the reasons is that the test is tougher and that those who taught and took the test were not well enough prepared for the changes. Those are issues that could be worked out over time.

Other problems could be more of a hurdle, mainly the fact that taking the test now costs almost twice as much — $135 — as it did before.

Companies deserve to make a profit, but this is doing so on the backs of people who are disadvantaged and trying to better themselves. Most of the people without high school diplomas are low-wage earners, and the cost is a significant barrier, especially when you consider that test-takers must pay the price, pass or fail. Having to pony up to take it a second time is a huge hit for most who would benefit from the diploma.

But that's not all. Those who want to take the test no longer can do so in person, using paper and pencil. They must register online with a credit or debit card, which many of them do not have.

That further demonstrates the much-increased reliance on computer access and abilities. Before, the test could be taken by computer, but it was not a requirement. Now, it's the only method. Some of the people taking the test are older, don't have computer skills and don't want them. Some don't have computers or connections to the Internet. They just want to earn the equivalent of a high school diploma to get a job or seek higher education, but we seem to be making it as difficult as possible for them.

After learning of these problems, the State Board of Education this month agreed to seek alternatives. As it does so, we hope board members move toward making the GED more of a high school equivalency test and less like a college entrance exam. The tests should be less expensive and should offer paper-and-pencil alternatives.

We should be encouraging people to try to improve their lot, not making them jump through expensive, out-of-reach hoops to get there.

Flags at half-staff

The U.S. and Texas flags at the News-Journal are at half-staff in honor of the victims in the recent attack on military recruiting personnel in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The flags will remain in this position of honor until sunset Saturday, per orders Tuesday from President Barack Obama and Gov. Greg Abbott.

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