GED tests ditch paper for computer, raise standards, equalize cost, narrow subject areas to 4
By Kate Wilcox
Published: Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Ashley Delbridge is a young woman on a mission.
And because of changes in a well-known high school graduate equivalency test, commonly known as the GED exams, Delbridge has just turned up the heat on completing that mission.
Because of those changes, if Delbridge doesn't finish all five parts of the General Educational Development exam by the end of the year, she'll have to start all over.
At this stage, she's passed three parts, so she's intent on beating the ticking clock on the revisions set to take effect Jan. 1 for anyone involved in the program, which certifies that high school dropouts have high school-level academic skills.
Among the changes are:
• Revising the tests to make them more consistent with increasing standards for traditional students in grades K-12.
• Standardizing the cost of the test at $120. The test can cost anywhere from $50 to $125 in Pennsylvania, with fees set by testing centers.
• Condensing the five-subject exams to four that will cover literacy, math, science and social studies.
• No longer administering the tests on paper. All of the tests will be given on a computer.
• Adding a new scoring level termed “Career and College Ready,” signaling that the test-taker scored at the highest level and is academically prepared, not only for the workforce, but for post-secondary education.
In 2012, 20,956 Pennsylvanians took the GED test. Seventy percent passed the exam. Nationally, 68.8 percent passed.
Gregory Mims, public relations director of the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, supports the changes because they will increase the value of a GED certificate with potential employers.
“I think the business world needs to know that they're getting folks that can do the work,” Mims said. “I think that employers need to know the GED is no longer a ‘good enough diploma,' so to speak.”
The American Council on Education, which runs the GED programs nationally through its GED Testing Service, last revised the tests in 2002. Officials said changes were necessary to keep pace with the advent of more rigorous state and federal achievement guidelines for traditional students.
Randy Trask, president and chief executive officer of GED Testing Service, said the overhaul of the GED test is needed to make the 40 million American adults without high school diplomas more competitive in the workforce.
“These adults lack the skills necessary to succeed in today's job market,” he said. “The new GED program will hold up in today's tech-savvy world.”
Test administrators and exam preparation educators are bracing students for the more stringent tests that will require more abstract and critical thinking skills.
“It's been a long time since the GED was revised,” said Judy Martier, director of education assessment and training at Goodwill of Southwestern PA. “And for our students, or for anybody taking the GED as an alternative to a diploma, it's important that they're on equal footing with people graduating high school.”
The GED tests began in 1942, when the government asked the American Council on Education to develop exams to administer to veterans who joined the military before completing high school.
Passing the tests offered the returning World War II veterans access to jobs and high education.
More than 70 years later, the changes have made some test-takers nervous.
Delbridge dropped out of Uniontown Area High School in 2008 with two months to go until graduation.
In March, when she was seven months pregnant, she decided to start taking courses to earn her GED diploma. She hopes the changes don't keep her from her goal.
“I heard it was going to be more complicated and cost more,” Delbridge said. “With a baby, it's hard to afford it now.”
Some educators supporting the stricter standards see the increasing cost as a roadblock.
Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said the cost of GED tests ranges from $50 to $125 across Pennsylvania, depending on the administrative costs charged by the testing center.
Next year, the cost of taking the tests at the Community College of Allegheny County will double, up from $60. The test offered through the Intermediate Unit in Fayette, Greene and Washington counties, now only $75, will increase.
Now the administrative fees will be rolled into the $120, with $40 going back to the local testing center.
“It's a big leap for them,” said Michael Westover, chief operating officer of the Center for Literacy and former state director of adult education. “I definitely see that as an obstacle to folks.”
In addition, test-takers will be required to pay with a credit card next year.
Jaime Tracktenberg, program administrator at Goodwill of Southwestern PA, said the organization has found solutions to that problem.
Test-takers can buy prepaid credit cards or pay Goodwill, which will give them a voucher number to use.
Susan Gall, director of special projects for CCAC, said the fee would not deter people who truly want to take the exams.
“For some people, $60 is the same as $120,” she said. “We believe if someone really does want to take their GED, they will indeed take it.”
Sue Conrady, Intermediate Unit director of adult nonpublic education for Fayette, Greene and Washington counties, where Delbridge took her GED prep courses and tests, said she is trying to get the word out to students that they need to finish the sections of the GED exams — math, science, social studies, reading and writing — this year.
While some advocates are concerned about poor and older test-takers being at a disadvantage because they lack access to computers, Westover said the computer skills necessary for the new test are basic and can be learned easily.
In some cases, it's even better, he said, because adults who take the GED tests may not have developed fine motor skills in class, and it can be easier to use a computer than to handwrite an essay.
Kate Wilcox is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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