Test-takers scramble to beat GED deadline

djournal-education-newsBy Chris Kieffer

Daily Journal

BELDEN – Adriana Baca has spent many hours studying at Itawamba Community College’s Belden Center during the past two months, trying to improve her score on the GED examination.

Earning the high-school-equivalency certification would set an example for Baca’s two daughters, ages 8 and 4, of the importance of their education.

“She gets excited when she sees I’m going to school,” Baca, 27, said of her oldest daughter. “It is closing this part of the book and just having a GED.”

But if she doesn’t finish soon, her efforts will become much more difficult. The Tupelo resident already has passed each of the five parts of the test, but must still raise her combined score by 80 points. If she does not do that by Dec. 31, she will have to start over.

That is because a new version of the test will be released on Jan. 2 with significant changes. Until then, students can save passing scores from completed sections, say reading or science, while they work to pass other sections, say social studies, math or writing.

At the end of the year, those scores will no longer count.

“If they do not complete by Dec. 31, they will lose everything they have passed thus far,” said Jan West, ICC’s director of adult basic education and GED testing. “They’ll lose all of their scores.”

Baca, who was scheduled to retake the test on Saturday, was motivated to renew her efforts to pass when she learned of the version change. She first started working on her GED in 2005, but stopped after she became pregnant. She tried again in 2008, but did not raise her score enough. If she does not beat this deadline, she said, she would be “really crushed.”

“I’ve been sitting here for two months just to get the 80 points,” she said. “I won’t have the same enthusiasm about coming back and starting over again. I’d probably quit the GED.”

The GED was created in 1942 to allow individuals who have not completed high school to pass a battery of tests and earn a high school equivalency credential. The current generation of the test, released in 2002, is the fourth version.

Test takers on this version must get a minimum score of 410 on each of the five tests and an average score of 450 on each to receive their certification. Scores from any test taken since 2002 count toward that goal.

As test-takers rush to meet the deadline to reach those scores, testing centers have seen an increased volume. ICC has had several test-takers it hadn’t seen since 2008 or 2009, West said.

“We are flooded right now with people,” said Lisa Hatfield, adult basic education instructor at ICC.

ICC has created a number of new testing dates in response to the demand and has averaged about 40 people at each test session, West said. Normally they would offer fewer tests and host about 20 to 30 people at each session, she said.

Nicole Chestang, executive vice president at GED Testing Services, told the Associated Press that in 2001, the year before the previous upgrade, 30 percent more people took the test, most of them at the end of the year.

More than 1 million people nationally have started but not finished the current GED test, Chestang said in a September press release. About 1,000 Mississippians could be impacted, according to the state education department.

During the summer, Hatfield called 512 people who had started their GED testing at ICC since 2002 but hadn’t yet completed it.

One of those test-takers is Ashley Gutierrez, 27, of Tupelo, who has taken the test three times since 2005. All she currently lacks is a passing score on the writing test.

“It would be bad to start over,” said Gutierrez, who wants to become a certified nursing assistant to better support her children.

The new test also will be more challenging. It will be aligned with Common Core State Standards, will emphasize critical thinking and require more writing. It also will be available only on the computer, replacing the current pencil-and-paper version.

The Common Core is a new set of standards for elementary and high school math and language arts instruction that has been fully adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.

“It is definitely more rigorous,” West said of the new test.

The technology requirement may present a challenge for some test takers. They will be asked to drag and drop information, open reading documents and fill-in blanks.

West said ICC has been field-testing a computerized version of the current test February 2012.

“We’ve found that younger people are sailing right through,” she said. “Technology isn’t a problem for them. We’ve had very few adults take the computer tests because some of them do lack the technology skills.

“We’re going to have to teach keyboarding and scrolling.”

ICC will introduce those skills in its GED prep classes, West said. Those courses also will have a greater emphasis on critical thinking skills.

“We will have to change the way we teach,” West said. “We are going to have to go to Common Core and do more problem solving, critical thinking, more analysis and drawing conclusions, those type of skills. We’ll have to do a lot of writing and a lot of keyboard skills to get them more comfortable.”

The paper-and-pencil test costs $75 for first-time test takers and $15 per section for re-testing. The computer test ist $120 for the first time and $24 per section to re-test. The new version also will cost $120.

chris.kieffer@journalinc.com

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TO SIGN UP

Those wishing to take the GED test at Itawamba Community College’s Belden Center should call (662) 407-1510 soon to schedule a date. Jan West said the school has several test dates remaining before the Dec. 31 deadline, but they’re filling fast.