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Oregon’s Tougher GED Means Bigger Profits for Test Prep Companies

Wednesday, March 04, 2015


A more difficult Oregon General Education Development (GED) test, developed in 2014 to hold adult diploma-holders to a higher standard, has meant a surge in business for companies that provide online test preparation services. 

Across Oregon, adult students seeking to achieve the Adult High School Diploma (AHSD) are staying in test preparation classes longer, and are turning to private companies in order to prepare for a more rigorous test. 

The test, last updated in 2002, underwent a substantial overhaul to align with the Common Core learning standards, a set of math and language arts learning expectations adopted in Oregon in 2010. 

“Our sales have doubled in six months,” said Michael Ormsby, CEO and Founder of Corvallis-based PassGED, which offers an online GED test preparation package for $189. In the last 14 months, the company has enrolled more than 239,000 students nationally. 

Wilsonville High School teacher Hyung Nam, who researches standardized testing and the testing industry, is not surprised by the figure. He said the online test preparation market generates colossal profits. 

“It’s a huge racket, it’s a huge business, it’s seen as a largely untapped sector worth over $500 billion,” Nam said. 

The new test 

The more difficult 2014 test has presented a challenge for the standard community college preparation classes, which struggle to cater to a classroom full of students at a variety of learning levels. 

“Suddenly there’s a much harder test, and [colleges] have difficulty adapting to the program,” said Ormsby. 

According to federal data for 2013, Oregon’s on-time graduation rate of 69 percent is the second-worst in the nation, making the AHSD the only means to a post-secondary education for 31 percent of students leaving the state’s public education system.

The four-part test requires 90 minutes of science, 90 minutes of social studies, 150 minutes of language arts with a 10-minute break, and 90 minutes of mathematical reasoning, taken on a computer. Some older test-takers are challenged by the digital test-taking aspect.  

Students turn to online preparation material in order to go at their own pace, but at a cost. A $189 GED course is a jump from the cost of a preparation class at one of Oregon’s community colleges, such as Oregon Coast Community College (OCCC), where the class costs $20 for a three-month term. 

Still, OCCC GED instructor Julie Reynolds-Otrugman said few practice test materials have properly adjusted to the new, more analytical, GED. 

But, a more difficult test that heavily emphasizes critical thinking, and costs $152 in total to take, pass or fail, has roughly 20 percent of students staying in her preparation courses for additional semesters, according to Reynolds-Otrugman. Since the test was implemented in Jan. 2014, there has been a 30 percent drop in registration to sit the exam, according to the Oregon Education Division. 

Kaplan, one of the nation’s leading test preparation companies, offers a GED course, which includes practice tests, evaluations and pretests, starting at $129. The accompanying book costs roughly $20. 

“We saw an enormous jump in students preparing,” said Lee Weiss, Kaplan Test Prep’s director of GED programs. 

According to Weiss, roughly 540,000 received a GED in 2013, while that number dropped to 90,000 in 2014.  

Official GED Material 

The official test, made by the online testing company Pearson Vue, is under copyright. Currently, the state has purview over all GED programs in Oregon.  

“Outside of that is an unknown market to us,” Oregon’s Education Division Director David Moore said. He argued a register or state accreditation system for private testing preparation programs would better ensure accountability. 

“This is not official test prep material if it’s developed by outside vendors,” he said. Hundreds of websites offer GED testing online, although there is no state regulator in Oregon. 

The evolving testing industry has given rise to open-source preparation companies as well. Union Test Prep, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., runs solely on revenue from online advertisements, and does not charge users. CEO and Founder Ryan Montgomery makes clear the company is run for profit, with 28,000 unique page views in the last week. But, he said companies should be mindful of the market GED test preparation serves. 

“It’s not people buying boats,” said Montgomery. “For people taking the GED, public education was tough. Now they have to pay all this money to pass these hard tests?” he said.

Because Union is not a vendor of licensed GED material, community college GED course instructors in some cases are unable to direct students to Union’s free material. 

Despite growing pains and complaints from students and faculty, government officials insist the new standard will assist AHSD-holders in being better prepared for the workforce.

“It’s an appropriate change in the test,” Moore, of the Oregon Education Division, said. “Alignment with Common Core is a positive thing.” 

In April, Oregon students in K-12 will be tested on the new standards. 


Related Slideshow: Slideshow: Top 15 Most Literate U.S. Cities

A 2013 study by Central Connecticut State University(CCU) ranked Portland as the 11th most literate City in America. The ranking's key metrics range from education, to number of booksellers, libraries and publications. See how these other cities stacked up. 

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Baltimore, MD

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Cleveland, OH

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Kansas City, MO

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Cincinnati, OH 

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Portland, OR

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San Francisco, CA

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St. Louis, MO

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Boston, MA

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St. Paul, MN

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Denver, CO

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Pittsburgh, PA

(tied with Atlanta)

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Atlanta, GA 

(tied with Pittsburgh)

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Minneapolis, MN 

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Seattle, WA 

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Washington DC 


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