Characteristics and Performance of High School Equivalency Exam Takers in New Jersey
Since 2014 the New Jersey Department of Education has offered three high school equivalency (HSE) exams for nongraduates seeking credentials: the GED, the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET), and the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC). This study used data on exam takers who had been grade 8 students in a New Jersey public school between 2008/09 and 2013/14 and who had attempted at least one HSE exam in New Jersey between March 2014 and December 2018. It analyzed how the characteristics of exam takers differ across exams and from the characteristics of non–exam takers, how the performance of exam takers with similar backgrounds varies, and how a recent reduction in the passing threshold for two of the exams affected passing rates. Among all students who had been grade 8 students in a New Jersey public school during the study years, HSE exam takers completed fewer years of school, were more likely to have been eligible for the national school lunch program in grade 8, and were more likely to identify as Black or Hispanic than non–exam takers. GED takers had received higher grade 8 standardized test scores, were more likely to identify as White, and were less likely to have been eligible for the national school lunch program in grade 8 than HiSET and TASC takers. Under the New Jersey Department of Education's original passing thresholds, exam takers in the study sample were more likely to pass the HiSET and TASC than the GED on the first attempt (after grade 8 standardized test scores were controlled for). However, after the reduction in passing thresholds, the first-attempt passing rate was similar across the three exams. Under the new passing thresholds, two-thirds of GED takers and more than half of HiSET and TASC takers passed on the first attempt, and—when all exam attempts are included—three-quarters of all exam takers ever passed each exam.