Rush is on to finish GEDs before changeSwitch looming to new tests, exclusively on computer.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
The clock is ticking for students who have completed some, but not all five parts of their General Educational Development test.
The GED, the nation’s most commonly accepted high school equivalency diploma, is getting an update, according to Beth Schneider, education coordinator for Cornerstones Career Learning Center in Mitchell. The nonprofit center offers free preparation classes through a Department of Labor grant for students needing a GED diploma.
Starting in January 2014, the old, or 2002-vintage, GED is out and a new computer-based GED is in.
Old and new tests are not compatible, said Schneider, and students who have partially completed tests in reading, writing, math, social studies and science tests under the old version cannot have completed tests applied to the 2014 GED.
Taken at one sitting, all tests that comprise the GED take about 7.5 hours to complete — old and new versions are about the same length — which is why most students choose to take one or two tests at a time, she said.
The Cornerstone staff has been hustling, sending out letters encouraging students with partially completed tests to wrap things up.
Interest has been high, Schneider said.
“Students have been coming out of the woodwork,” she said. “We’re telling students sitting with only three or four tests done that they need to finish up as soon as possible.”
In 2011, 2 percent (1,645) of the 81,935 South Dakota adults without high school diplomas took the GED test. Among those, 1,039 completed the test and 838 passed.
“I would say the low completion and passing rates have a lot to do with the demographics of the clientele,” Schneider said. “These are likely students who weren’t successful in high school and were probably not able to meet the demands of the GED.”
The 51 percent passing rate among those who start the tests also underscores the need for preparation, Schneider said, and that’s where Cornerstones comes in.
From June 2011 to July 2012, 19 diploma candidates completed their GED tests successfully in the Mitchell service area, and 17 of that number had Cornerstones preparation.
“This year we’re on track for 25 to 30 GED completions because of the new test,” Schneider said. “With a new test on the way, we’re trying to push through as many students as we can.”
Nanette Knecht, 27, of Mitchell, hopes to finish up her final test, in math, this March. Knecht said she was home-schooled as a girl and then married young, had four children and never had time to complete her GED. She’s hoping her diploma will help her re-join the workforce.
“I used to be a hair stylist in Indiana and you didn’t need a high school diploma there,” she said. A GED will be a first step toward getting her South Dakota cosmetology license.
Randy Allen plans to take the math and social tests on March 8 to complete his GED requirements.
“Math will probably be the toughest,” he said. “I started at Cornerstones in October and I learned so much in such a short period of time.”
Allen, who is looking for work, formerly managed a fast-food operation in Colorado, but without a GED, advancement opportunities were few and he was limited to making “chump change.”
The most common question Schneider gets from her students is, “Will the new test be harder?”
“I tell them I’ve never known a test to get easier. What you need to know today is not what you needed to know 10 years ago.”
Schneider has been attending webinars and updating the Cornerstones curriculum to ready students for the new version of the test.
The new GED will be reduced to four tests. It will include a new test called “Reasoning through language arts,” which combines reading and writing requirements, plus individual tests for math, social studies and science. Currently, the GED costs $130 or $26 per test. Schneider had no information on the new GED’s cost.
Starting in 2014, the entire GED test, writing included, must be taken at approved computer testing sites nationwide. In South Dakota, however, the existing GED tests have been computer-based since last month. South Dakota is a pilot state for the new computerized testing, Schneider said. Until next January, those computers will be loaded with the 2002 version of the tests. When the switch happens in January, the tests will not only be exclusively on computers but will also be the new versions of the tests.
“The pilot program ensures that the registration process is smooth for the new GED and that scoring is instantaneous,” she said.
Even the writing part of the new test will be scored immediately, she said, which is an improvement. Scoring the written part of the current GED typically takes three to five days.
The new GED computer-based test will be administered only at Mitchell Technical Institute.
Doug Greenway, MTI’s director of corporate education, said MTI’s Technology Center will host the Pearson VUE testing network, which handles all GED testing. GED tests are administered at MTI once a month.
The MTI center also accommodates regional testing for the Postal Service, the Transportation Security Administration and other corporate entities.
Greenway said a student who feels ready to take the GED can register online to take the test.
All parts of the test, except for the written portion, are multiple-choice, he said.
“Keyboarding skills of students we’ve had taking the test vary from bad to good,” he said. “Writing takes longer for some students than others, but to date, no student has run out of time to complete the test.”
Schneider believes the GED updates were needed.
“If you want to keep the value of something, you’ve got to keep it relevant,” she said.