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Editorial: A new ladder for education

For the past 70 years, the General Education Development (the GED) test has been providing adults without a high school diploma a step up on the academic ladder.

The American Council on Education, a nonprofit higher education association, administered the test, which was designed to allow people to have better educational and employment opportunities. Since it got started in 1942, 18 million Americans have taken advantage of the chance to become a GED graduate. And hundreds of thousands continue to take the test on a yearly basis, with more than 700,000 taking the exam in 2012.

A proven track record, however, does not mean the goals of the GED or the test itself should stand still. At least that’s been the thinking of the American Council on Education and others in the field of education, which is why there is now a revamped test — actually three — and states get to decide which one to use.

In Massachusetts, HiSET, developed by Educational Testing Service and Iowa Testing Programs, will be the one that adult learners and others will use to earn their high school equivalency certificates.

Leading up to the change, there has been debate about what modernization means, though less about what students will have to know. A switch from a paper and pencil test to one requiring a computer is one of the changes fueling concerns ... though in Massachusetts, students can use either. The other issue involves cost. Those now taking the HiSET in Massachusetts or whatever is offered elsewhere in the country are going to have to pay more for their exam. This increase could be an obstacle that state education officials should examine carefully.

Being schooled in reading comprehension, writing, math as well as science and social studies is the educational foundation expected as students move forward, whether they made it through high school or are taking the equivalency route.

It’s too early to see whether this new and improved approach is better than the old GED, but it does hold promise.

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