The ‘New and Improved’ General Educational Development (GED) Test Series

scantron test Public Health Community Advisory – A recent report on the upcoming changes to the General Educational Development (GED) series of examinations stated “[In January 2014] the series will be replaced by a new, more rigorous version intended to meet modern expectations for college- and career-readiness.”[1] So, why will this change be important, who will it be important for, and what is the connection to the public’s health?

Simply put, it matters to all of us but in different ways. For those seeking a GED, the change may affect their access to preparation and testing. For those individuals and for communities as a whole, the change may affect both individual and community literacy and health literacy.

An increased testing fee could deter individuals from completing the GED. Those lacking a high school diploma often have limited employment options, and the increased testing fees could pose a barrier. However, the change that is likely to have the largest impact on individuals’ ability to obtain a GED is the adoption of computerized testing. This change is likely to have a negative effect in the short term but a positive effect in the long term. In the short term, computerized testing will prevent some smaller community literacy groups from offering GED exam preparation because they lack computers and/or the skills for computer training. In addition, the learning curve will be steep for those adult learners who have limited understanding of how to use technology and limited access to it. Organizations helping students prepare to take the computerized GED exams will need to have technology in their educational settings so students become comfortable using the technology before they begin the GED test series. In the long term, however, those who prepare for and take the computerized GED exams will have added that experience with technology to their skill set, which will be an asset when entering the workplace and/or continuing their education.

The change to computerized GED preparation and testing could have similar short-term (negative) and long-term (positive) effects on the health of communities. In the short term, financial or technical inability to access GED services may mean fewer adult literacy opportunities and therefore lower adult literacy. Lower adult literacy means lower health literacy, particularly for the elderly, racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and those with limited education. However, in the long term, those who obtain a GED and gain experience with technology will also increase their health literacy and the health literacy of their community. Individuals are affected by their own health literacy and the health literacy of those around them: family, friends, neighbors, co-workers. This “ripple effect” has been studied and proven with mapping research[2]. An individual living in a community with relatively high health literacy may benefit from the knowledge and abilities of his/her friends and neighbors. An individual living in a community with low health literacy may receive counter-productive information from friends and neighbors. So, as stated earlier, we all benefit from an educated community. Education plays a critical role for a healthy community. Promoting educational development is a pathway towards greater opportunities and stability for adult learners. Where we see low adult literacy we may be more likely to see poor health literacy and poorer health outcomes overall.

[1] Brynn Anderson, The Omaha World Herald, http://www.omaha.com/article/20131110/NEWS/131119921

[2] Bird, C.E. RAND Corporation.

This article was written by Denise H. Britigan, PhD, assistant professor in the COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health, and Kirsten Case, executive director of the Midlands Literacy Center in Omaha, Nebraska.  www.giveliteracy.org