The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced this month that the state is covering the cost of HiSET tests in each subject, along with two retake tests.
HiSET is a high school equivalency testing program. Massachusetts began free GED testing for residents in September.
“By removing testing fees, we are making an investment in Massachusetts residents and their futures,” Gov. Maura Healey said in a press release. “No one should be held back from earning their equivalency credential due to costs. This investment will encourage more Massachusetts adult learners to continue their education, earn their credential, and begin higher education or enter the workforce.”
High school equivalency exams can be expensive for some students with some tests costing up to $143, depending on test settings and mode. According to the release, nearly 9,000 Massachusetts adult learners took high school equivalency tests in 2021.
Funding for the free tests will come from the adult education line item in the state budget, which is expected to cover the costs permanently, according to the release. The department estimates the initiative will cost the state approximately $800,000 during the first year.
“I hope many people who did not earn a high school diploma will see this as a valuable opportunity to return to their education,” Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley said in the release. “This could be the opportunity some Massachusetts adult learners have been waiting for to get a higher degree or a better job.”
Chief HiSET examiner for Martha’s Vineyard, Jeff Agnoli, who is also a former English teacher and guidance counselor at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, said the state’s efforts were “a big step.” “They’ve talked about this for quite some time, but it’s very welcome because it makes a difference,” he said. “It’s not the most expensive test in the world, but it is an added hurdle.”
Agnoli also felt the state showing this kind of compassion for adult learners acted as “encouragement” for residents who want to pursue the test. On the Island, people usually take the test one subject at a time and this can sometimes result in needing to travel, according to Agnoli.
The GED is a more recognizable name than the HiSET among high school equivalency tests, and it was developed to support service members returning from World War II. Martha’s Vineyard used to offer GED testing, but switched to the HiSET in 2014. Agnoli said Pearson, the company that now runs the GED with the American Council on Education, implemented changes that were “onerous” for the Island’s small test center at the high school. Agnoli said the HiSET is a bit more difficult than the GED but corresponds better with next step education, like community college or vocational education. “I think the two are very similar,” Agnoli said, adding that Educational Testing Service, the company that administers the HiSET, has been more responsive and easier to work with.
Allowing paper-based tests through the HiSET is beneficial since some people are not as computer literate. Agnoli said not everyone is comfortable taking a computer-only test, although this is a skill that can be taught.
While the state covering testing fees is beneficial, Agnoli said one area where the Island sees a deficit is in courses to prepare test takers. People can hire a tutor and use educational materials like online resources or books, but some costs like changing test dates can be an added burden for prospective test takers. And Agnoli said many of them have modest incomes. “Especially in the age of COVID, that has not been satisfactory either,” Agnoli said.
Agnoli said some people on the Island are trying to cover the testing education gap, and he is a part of an effort to bring courses to the Island. “ACE MV ran classes for several years, but they were limited in duration and sometimes people need longer and more involved [courses],” he said. “And, it needs to be free.”
However, the number of high school equivalency test takers has decreased on the Island. “There was a time when we were doing several dozen every year and now, I would say, we are down to around a dozen a year,” Agnoli said, adding that only a handful of the test takers are young people who were recently in school. He partly attributed this to the “innovative programs” at the high school keeping students in school longer. Although Agnoli values the HiSET, he was “very encouraged” by the decrease in young people taking the test and completing high school.
“Nowadays, there’s a lot of adults that are taking it,” Agnoli said. “Different industries, different trades, people in their thirties and forties.”
For more information about the HiSET, visit hiset.org/. For more general information about high school equivalency tests in Massachusetts, visit bit.ly/3Zs4YYx.