GED students cram as deadline for new test nears

Staff writerDecember 9, 2013 

The clock is ticking for students who are working to obtain their GED high school equivalency credential.

The GED, which has been around more than 70 years, is a way for people who never finished high school to take a series of tests and receive a credential that can qualify them for jobs, college admission and financial aid.

A new version of the test will launch Jan. 2. Students who have completed portions of the old series have until Dec. 31 to finish testing under the old system. After that, their old scores will no longer count and they will have to complete all sections of the new test. Plus, they’ll need to pay for the test again.

Local community colleges — which operate most GED test centers in Washington — are urging students who need to finish to do so sooner rather than later.

Kim Ward, associate dean for transitional studies at Tacoma Community College, said instructors are urging students to take their final GED tests no later than Friday. That way, if they fail a segment and need to retake it, they’ll have time before the deadline.

Students are responding to the call.

“We are seeing a lot of students who are hunkering down to get through the old version of the test, because they really don’t want to start over,” Ward said.

NUMBERS UP AT TCC

She said TCC has had more than 500 additional test takers this year, compared with last year. Through the end of December, 25 students are scheduled to test daily.

“We have seen a huge increase in the number of people completing it as it comes to the end of the old test,” said Jon Kerr, director of adult education with the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

While that’s true overall, some testing sites haven’t seen the upswing.

At Bates Technical College, assessment and testing manager Ron Swallow said officials anticipated a surge in test requests, but it didn’t materialize.

“Our big focus now is how to accommodate them if they show up at the last minute,” Swallow said. “How can we get them in before the deadline?”

In 2012, more than 2,500 students took GED tests through one of Pierce County’s public two-year colleges — TCC, Bates, Clover Park Technical College or Pierce College.

BIG CHANGES ON WAY

Major changes are coming to the GED test in January.

The current test can be completed either on paper or by computer. But starting in January, all GED tests will be administered by computer at testing centers.

The test, last redesigned in 2002, has five sections: math, science, social studies, reading and writing. The new GED will have four sections: reasoning through language arts, mathematical reasoning, science and social studies.

“The shift is a movement not just to measure what someone knows, but how they can apply what they know,” said Nicole Chestang, executive vice president of GED Testing Services.

The test also is being revamped to reflect the state’s use of the Common Core Standards, which are also being implemented in public schools throughout Washington.

Some say this will make the new GED more rigorous.

The current test is mainly multiple choice, while the new test will ask test-takers to drag and drop items to put them in a correct order, and choose a correct answer from drop-down computer menus.

Previous test-takers had to complete an opinion-based essay, but the new test will include more extended responses to questions, such as comparing two literature excerpts.

NEW SCORING SCALE

Scoring will use a different scale. A basic score will set the passing level, but students who score high enough beyond that level can be awarded “honors” status, which signifies that they’re college-ready. That status will be reflected on a test-taker’s transcript.

One thing that’s not changing is the cost. It’s set statewide, and will remain at $150 for the full battery of tests.

Other changes could be on the horizon, however. While the GED has been the only high school equivalency test available for years, other test vendors have now entered the market. Some states plan to offer alternative choices in January.

Washington is sticking with the GED for 2014, but it plans to ask for proposals from other testing companies in the new year.

GED by the numbers

 • Nationally, 72 percent of GED test-takers are ages 16 to 29. Another 24 percent are between 30 and 49, while the remaining 4 percent are ages 50 and older.

 • Washington breaks down statistics slightly differently. In 2012, 20 percent of test-takers were younger than age 19, 64 percent were between 19 and 34, and 10 percent were between 35 and 44.

 • In 2012, more than 2,500 students took GED tests through one of Pierce County’s public two-year colleges — Bates Technical College, Clover Park Technical College, Pierce College or Tacoma Community College.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 debbie.cafazzo@ thenewstribune.com @DebbieCafazzo SOURCES: GED Testing Service and Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges

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