Move over, GED. Coloradans will have three choices for high school equivalency exams

Colorado residents wishing to take a high school equivalency exam soon will have up to three options, not just one.

The Colorado Department of Education announced Friday it has signed contracts with three vendors, opening up new options after nearly 50 years of allowing only one test — the GED, or General Education Development exam — in Colorado.

In the next three to six months, officials said, two other options will be introduced at testing centers — HiSET (High School Equivalency Test) and TASC (Test Assessing Secondary Completion) exams.

The move follows the lead of other states that have adopted alternative exams after a major revision to the GED in 2014 designed to align the test with Common Core standards in language arts and math, which are part of Colorado’s academic standards.

The GED abandoned pencil-and-paper in favor of giving the tests on computers — mirroring PARCC tests given to Colorado students in grades three though nine — and also doubled the cost of the test to $120. The changes came after for-profit testing giant Pearson acquired a joint ownership interest in the organization that produces the test.

Since the changes, the number of Colorado students taking and passing the GED has plummeted 75 percent, according to an analysis by Rocky Mountain News PBS I-News. That has prompted some Coloradans to travel to Wyoming and other neighboring states to take cheaper test alternatives that critics say are less rigorous than the GED.

In December, the State Board of Education voted 4-3 to allow department staff to negotiate contracts with the three testing companies.

The new contracts do not necessarily mean all three tests will be available at each of the state’s 85 testing centers. Colorado colleges and universities can still decide which credential to accept, and testing centers can pick which exams to offer.

State officials say the exams are not expected to be available for three to six months as vendors finalize agreements with testing centers and centers put in place required security steps. The vendors are responsible for working directly with state-approved testing facilities to coordinate the administration of the exams, the state said.

Nearly half of the state’s testing centers are in correctional facilities. Centers typically are independent organizations but contract with testing companies to offer specific exams.

Check out details on the three exams here.