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Upcoming GED changes mean finish now or start over

By Glenn Evans
Feb. 19, 2013 at 10 p.m.

Changes coming next year have students scrambling to complete GED testing - or lose the progress they've made.

"Yes, you have to start over again," said GED Testing Service spokesman Armando Diaz, noting the test's trademarked creator expects the number of students taking the test this year to jump from the usual 700,000 to at least 1 million as students strive to preserve credit for portions they've passed.

A new version of the test, given nationwide, will be introduced Jan. 1. Developers say the first major changes since 2002 will align the test with the new Common Core curricula adopted by most states to increase college and career readiness. Six out of 10 jobs in America are expected to require some form of post-high school training by 2020. The days are fading when a high school diploma, or the GED equivalency, was an end unto itself, Diaz said.

"We decided (to ask ourselves), what can we do to keep them in the education pipeline," Diaz said. "Technology is everywhere; technology is in the workforce. The top 10 employers in the U.S. don't have paper applications."

That's one reason the GED won't have paper tests come 2014. Students will be tested on computers at designated sites such as Kilgore College or its Longview campus, where they now fill in bubbles with No. 2 pencils. Thirty-eight states already have switched to the computer GED exam. Texas is not one of them.

Julie Noble with the East Texas Literacy Council estimates her agency has from 50 to 60 students studying to take the GED at any given time. Most of those are single men or women in their early 20s, she said, but range into their 60s. Many are single men who've outgrown teen habits that held them back or single mothers who were slowed on the academic path by marriage and motherhood.

"We're strongly encouraging students who are capable of passing the GED this year to do it under the old test," Noble said, noting the cost of the test also will climb next year from $80 to at least $120.

The electronic element of the change will provide faster feedback, eliminating the two-week wait as paper tests are sent to Austin to be graded. The computerized version also will have two results: the standard pass/fail grade and recommendations on how ready a student is for college pursuit or remediation.

That feature would help, for example, a student seeking a one-or two-year certification in welding.

"He'll get a score, immediately, that will show areas in which he is strong or lacking," Diaz said. "That may be one less remedial course he has to take at the community college. It just opens the doors on possibilities of what the test taker is capable of."

Jennifer Slade of the East Texas Literacy Council agreed the GED exam no longer is the career launcher it was in 1942 when GIs coming home from World War II needed a way to finish their public school educations.

"We're finding more and more that the GED is not the end point," she said. "We've got such great industries here. And they're hiring, and they need a skilled workforce. And we like to think we've got a niche in that preparation of the workforce."

In addition to encouraging those who can to finish the exam this year, test-takers are being urged to learn basic computer literacy to ease the electronic test.

"It's going to be a real challenge for those who are not computer literate," Slade said. "We're already planning what computer literacy we need to have in place."

The test also is changing from five components to four - literacy, science, social studies and mathematics. A fifth element in the current GED, the essay exam, will be incorporated into the social studies and literacy tests, Diaz said.

And, while Diaz would not say the new test will be harder - "That's not the real story here," he said. - Noble and Slade were pretty confident it will be more rigorous.

"From what we have seen, looking at the sample questions, I think it's going to be harder," Noble said.

That's one reason the local educators urge people to finish high school. Both said their GED students often say they left high school early with the thought of getting an easy GED later.

"They'll have a lot better chance of success staying in school and getting the credits," Noble said. "We're really discouraging people from thinking it's an easy way to get out of high school."



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