BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- Since World War II, virtually all adults who've sought a high school equivalency diploma have taken the GED. Next year, students may have a choice of tests as states explore developing rival exams in response to plans to re-write and computerize the GED and double the price.
New York state, citing a litany of issues with GED Testing Service's planned revamp, already has solicited bids for an alternative test that would maintain the paper and pencil format and keep costs more in line with the $60 it now pays in offering it to residents for free. Two bids submitted by the mid-January deadline are under review.
"We think we have no alternative. We cannot turn our back on the issue of access," Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said.
New York law prohibits charging residents to take the GED, so allowing the company's "monopoly" to continue would "simply double the cost and by that fact, halve the number of people in New York state who have access to this high school equivalency standard," she said.
New York is not alone in its reservations and is part of a 37-state coalition formed to consider potential alternatives, said Kevin Smith, the State Education Department deputy commissioner for adult career and continuing education.
Aside from the issue of cost, New York's 269 test centers don't have the terminals or technical infrastructure to give 50,000 tests via computer per year, state officials said.
Yet another issue for New York is GED's rapid alignment with the more rigorous Common Core standards adopted by most states.
Officials fear it will further diminish the chances of passing for adults who've learned under the previous standards. At 59.5 percent in 2011, New York's GED pass rate was the third-lowest in the country, behind only the District of Columbia and Mississippi. Nationwide, the pass rate was 72.2 percent.
"We tried to take control of this back by issuing the (request for proposals)," Smith said.
GED Testing Services, the Washington-based company that administers the trademarked GED, has been working with states on the transition, spokesman CT Turner said, and has seen grades rise and students finishing more quickly at computerized trial sites.
The overhaul was necessary, he said, to keep pace with the changing requirements of college and careers.
"We believe in 2014 we are meeting the demands that are put on adults when they go into the workforce," Turner said.
The new system also will provide students with more detailed results, with failing students told not only which of four subject areas need work but what specific areas within them, for example, the algebra section of math.
"We hope that's one of the things that will drive up the pass rate," Turner said.
New York's RFP asked vendors to show how they would phase in computer testing and the Common Core standards over time, giving those who prepare students time to get training in the new standards and the state room to expand its computer infrastructure.
"We're trying to make the transition to the test a little more seamless, a little softer, not put so much stress on our programs, on our infrastructure and most especially our students," Smith said.
Turner said New York is no different than other states in transitioning to the 2014 infrastructure requirements, noting there needs only to be an Internet connection before and after the test, not during the exam.
"A lot of states are thinking creatively about testing centers," he said. "A lot of states are looking at having additional testing centers, using one-stops, community colleges and other places where the technology already exists."
Even if New York develops its own test, GED would plan on offering its test in the state, Turner said.