The Covid-19 pandemic has spurred several changes in education, most notably related to in-person learning.  For those who have taken or plan to take the General Education Development (GED) test, the move to an increasingly virtual world has led to much uncertainty about whether these individuals may enter post-secondary education or the workforce according to plan.  To alleviate some uncertainty for these individuals, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (Department) has agreed to facilitate alternate means for administering GED tests.  While these tests were once only offered at official GED test centers, the national GED Testing Service began additionally offering online proctored tests in May 2020 due to COVID-19-related test center closures.  Wisconsin took advantage of this offering.

Even with the testing change, many current or former GED test-takers still face roadblocks in taking the GED test or getting their results in a timely fashion.  Amidst the backdrop of economic insecurity, GED testing issues can delay job and academic applications exacerbating economic disparities across Wisconsin.  In recognition of this possibility, the Department has responded in two primary ways: (1) promulgating an emergency rule, which would extend age-related waivers for GED tests, and (2) submitting a 2021-2023 budgetary proposal, which would subsidize GED testing and automate the current GED credentialing system.

With respect to the emergency rule, Wisconsin’s current administrative rule – Wis. Admin. Code PI-5 – sets forth the standards for obtaining high school equivalency for those unable to obtain a high school diploma.  To qualify for the GED test, a person must have lived in Wisconsin for at least ten (10) days and be either eighteen (18) years and six (6) months of age or the class with which he/she entered ninth (9th) grade must have graduated from high school. 

There are very few exceptions to the GED test age requirement.  Individuals who are at least seventeen (17) years of age and incarcerated, in federal job corps programs, or in approved high school equivalency programs may take the GED test.  Aside from these exceptions, a test center’s chief examiner may request an age waiver for a student to test early.  Though rarely granted, the Department considers age waivers for individuals who: (1) have a family or personal medical reason, (2) are entering the military, or post-secondary education or training, or (3) are employed full time.

The emergency rule, promulgated under scope statement SS 146-20, opens age-related waivers to all individuals ready to take the GED.  Proponents of the emergency rule argue that students who cannot test due to test center closures and long waitlists may become disengaged or forced to delay their future plans.  Proponents also contend that opening testing to these students would allow new students to enter GED readiness programs.  

Aside from the emergency rule, the State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor recently submitted the Department’s proposed 2021-2023 biennial budget request regarding K-12 funding.  The proposed budget outlines two primary changes in funding GED testing and credentialing.  First, the Department wants to remove testing fees to address racial and economic disparities observed in high school equivalency rates.  According to the proposal, subsidizing testing would alleviate the financial concern expressed by those most frequently contacting the Department about GED testing – students, teachers, mentors, and family from non-white, impoverished areas.  Second, the Department seeks to streamline its credentialing process by automating an outdated paper system.  The Department currently stores thirty-five (35) years’ worth of paper GED records.  While this system already presented inefficiencies and strains on staffing, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified these issues and further delayed access to records imperative to individuals facing economic hardship.

Ultimately, only two of these changes are likely to have an impact on secondary schooling in Wisconsin: (1) age waivers and (2) testing subsidies.  While these two changes eliminate GED testing barriers and reduce economic hardships for some, the changes also increase GED-testing accessibility, which may result in more GED applications.  School administrators, particularly in low-income districts, will want to stay apprised of such matters as they could serve as a barometer for more permanent measures.

For questions regarding this article, please contact your Renning, Lewis & Lacy attorney.

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