The number of adults in New Jersey taking the high school equivalency test has plunged from nearly 17,000 in 2013 to fewer than 9,000 in 2016. Of those who are taking it, the number who pass has fallen from 70 to 55 percent.

The reason, according to a report by The Center for Women and Work at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, is that the test is harder and more expensive to take.

Research Director Elaine Zundl says the current program leaves far too many of New Jersey's adult learners behind.

"More than 256,000 adults in New Jersey do not have a high school diploma and 20 percent of them are living below the poverty line," she said.

Since March 2014, there have been many changes to the General Education Development (GED) test.

The test used to be a paper test that was administered at almost any location, such as a church or school. Now it's a computerized test, so people have to go to a special center to take it.

The test used to be $50 and now the price has jumped to $120, which includes all fees.

Zundl says this is especially troubling for those living in the state's poorest districts, who lack funds and computer skills.

"If you don't have a high school diploma, this is your only way into employment and it's the basic credential to go into the military as well."

The focus now is to find ways to make the test more affordable and accessible.

Zundl says she'd like to see a change in the scoring. Most other states allow the passing score to be 145. But in New Jersey, the passing score is 150.

She would also like to see subsidies and scholarships for lower-income test-takers.

"We would like to see some additional test centers be created and we would like more information widely available about the new format of the test," says Zundl.

There are 52 test centers in New Jersey. But in Cumberland County, where there is only one test center, 23.5 percent of adults did not complete high school and 18 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

There is also only one test center in Atlantic County, where 15.3 percent of adults have no high school diploma and almost 12 percent of the population lives in poverty.

The test is also not available in Spanish in either county, although it is elsewhere.


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