Multiple High School Equivalency Assessment Options Needed in Colorado

UPDATE 4/1/16: In a move that helps Colorado’s students and our workforce, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) has signed contracts with three vendors of high school equivalency assessments.

The GED® test had been the standard used for assessing high school equivalency since its creation in 1942, but following the GED®’s latest update in 2014, thousands fewer Coloradans have taken and passed the test. Our policy brief, Expanding Opportunity: The Need for Multiple High School Equivalency Assessment Options in Coloradorecommended Colorado add testing options beyond the GED®, as several other states have done.

In December, following comments from the Bell and other advocates for expanding the options, the State Board of Education directed the CDE to negotiate contracts with vendors of three assessments, which are the HiSET, TASC and GED®. Today, CDE announced contracts have been signed with all three, “providing Colorado residents seeking a high school equivalency exam a range of options never before available.”

Additional options for high school equivalency assessments will recognize and support the wide variety of learning styles, testing format preferences, financial circumstances, life goals and postsecondary and workforce aspirations that the diverse students seeking a high school equivalency diploma bring with them and benefit all concerned.


The high school equivalency diploma is of utmost importance for student educational attainment and state workforce development. Every year, thousands of Coloradans — both youth and adults — pursue the high school equivalency diploma as a key stepping-stone to employment or postsecondary studies, or to ensure that they can be full partners in their own children’s educational success. For these individuals, passing a high school equivalency assessment and obtaining the diploma remains a critical step in achieving their personal, family and economic goals.

For our state, it remains one of the foundational building blocks in developing a strong workforce and competitive economy. The Bell Policy Center believes providing multiple high school equivalency assessment options to students is good education policy, is consistent with a multiple pathways approach to increasing student success and will expand opportunity in our state.

There is a significant need for high school equivalency diplomas in the United States and Colorado. Nationally, 24.4 million working-age adults ages 18-64 lack a high school diploma or the equivalent. In Colorado, more than 340,000 adults are without one, representing about 10 percent of the state’s working-age population.

Since its creation in 1942, the General Education Development (GED®) test had been the standard used for assessing high school equivalency in every state, until an updated version began being administered in 2014. In 2011, the for-profit company Pearson joined the nonprofit American Council on Education to create and administer the new GED® test beginning in 2014. The new test is more expensive, aligned to Common Core standards and must be taken on a computer. Since the new test has been administered, there has been a substantial decrease in the number of people taking the test and the number of people passing it, leading many states, including Colorado, to consider alternative assessment options.

Considering the challenges the new GED® presents, other high school equivalency tests have been developed. Among them, the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET), administered by Educational Testing Service, and the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC), originally developed by McGraw-Hill Education and currently administered by Data Recognition Corporation (DRC), have emerged as recognized and accepted alternatives to the GED®. Currently, 17 states offer the HiSET and/or TASC in addition to or in lieu of the GED® for determining high school equivalency, with 10 of those states eliminating the GED® altogether.

In Colorado, the GED® remains the only test approved to qualify for a high school equivalency diploma. However, with thousands fewer people taking and passing the test, Colorado’s experience resembles those states that have now chosen to offer alternatives to the GED®. Following suit, Colorado has begun the process to decide whether to approve other high school equivalency tests.

The Bell Policy Center recommends that the State Board of Education approve multiple high school equivalency tests for use in Colorado to increase the number of Coloradans, both youth and adults, obtaining a high school equivalency diploma. Offering multiple options for high school equivalency assessments would recognize and support the wide variety of learning styles, testing format preferences, financial circumstances, life goals and postsecondary and workforce aspirations that the diverse students seeking a high school equivalency diploma bring with them, and benefit all concerned — students, employers and the state.

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