CINCINNATI – A complete overhaul of the GED has current students rushing to complete the tests — or risk having to start from scratch in January.
The deadline also has area educators working to get the word out to students already struggling to earn a second chance because the test is being revised for the first time since 2002. Changes include: reducing the number of sections to four, increasing the cost of the test, adding a computer literacy component, and, for the first time, eliminating paper exams.
“We have 30 tests scheduled between now and the end of the year. It’s probably the highest number we’ve had testing at this time of year since I’ve been here,” said Erica Ninneman, head GED instructor at Lower Price Hill Community School, which serves mostly low-income adults who dropped out of school long ago.
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The cost will triple to $120 beginning next year, although Ohio is working on plans to either reimburse students $80 or grant a waiver for the same amount, said John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Education Department. Kentucky has no such rebate in place.
The GED was last overhauled in 2002, consistent with the test’s history of revisions every 10-15 years to keep up with evolving educational standards.
Everyone from the testing company, GED Testing Service, to state education boards and local GED tutors have been working to spread the word to GED candidates for nearly a year that the 2013 test must be completed in entirety this year. If all five tests are not completed by year's end, candidates will have to start over come January 1, 2014.
'I Want Them To Look Up to Their Dad'
Ciera Benton has high hopes and a steep road ahead.
“I was here a while back, but I stopped and came back for three months now,” said Benton, 27, of Lower Price Hill. She still has to take all five sections of the test. “Math is the hardest for me. I’ve been on my math for a month now.”
Benton dropped out of high school in the 10th grade after becoming pregnant. Her dream is to earn a culinary degree from Cincinnati State Technical & Community College and to own her own catering business.
“I’m all about cooking,” she said.
Steven Lee, 36, has passed all but one section, missing a passing grade on math by one point last week, he said. He plans to retake it this week. Like many other GED candidates, his path has been rocky.
At 11, he said, his parents were out of his life, and he began selling drugs and living on the streets. At 17, he was arrested and dropped out of school. He has been working on and off for three years on his GED and has leaned on staff at Lower Price Hill for support.
“I’m trying to stay out of trouble. They help me out a lot. Even when I got other problems, they help me through.” He’s persevering in order to be a better role model.
“I’ve got little kids, and I want them to look up to their dad.”
Lee wants to enroll at Cincinnati State, earn a business management degree and eventually manage apartments for ex-convicts and others like him who need a second chance.
Changes To The New Test
The first step of getting a GED would be delayed if they don’t pass by the end of December, when the test overhaul will make this year’s test incompatible with the new one.
In the 2013 version, each section – mathematics, reasoning through language arts (RLA), science, social studies and an essay – is graded independently of the others. In the new test, the essay section has been eliminated, but essays have been incorporated into all the remaining sections except math. It’s for that reason that incomplete tests from 2013 are incompatible with the new test.
“We’re actually measuring multiple concepts in different tests,” said CT Turner, a spokesman for GED Testing Service, the Washington D.C. company that owns the test.
Randy Trask, GED Testing Service president, said the new test ensures adult learners are prepared for jobs in today’s market, including digital skills that they’ll learn in the course of preparing to take the test online.
“We need to give these adults and families a fighting chance,” Trask said in a webcast. “We are fundamentally shifting our focus on adult learners.”
Test Adds Honors Designation
The 2014 test comes with many other changes, including a detailed report instead of scores with no context. Test takers can simply pass or earn a GED with Honors, which is designed to signal to colleges that a student is prepared for undergraduate work. College and career sections of the new online portal help guide clients to their next steps as does a career assessment questionnaire.
“The test is not an endpoint. It’s just a springboard to much more,” said Cassandra Brown, GED Testing Services senior marketing manager, speaking on a conference call with reporters.
The new test evaluates basic computer literacy skills and is the only high school equivalency test that meets U.S. Department of Education standards for college readiness, Brown said.
She said the
conversion to all-electronic testing will lead to more success, if past results are any indicator. In the 2013 version, which can be taken on paper or on computer, 88 percent passed on computer versus 71 percent on paper. There was a 60 percent increase in the number of students who retook the test after failing among those who did it online.
“We’ve done something revolutionary here. This is the first test to focus on the test taker, not the test alone,” Brown said.
Online Only May Be Deter Some
Some educators who are in the trenches greeted elimination of the paper option with less enthusiasm.
“The computer for a lot of people is another barrier. Not only are they worried about their skill level, now they’re worried about another skill set,” said Jen Walters, Lower Price Hill Community School executive director.
She said most of her students did not grow up with computers or have them in their homes. “It just adds to their anxiety,” Walters said. “It’s such a different mindset for us when we put people in front of a computer. These are skills that we want people to have, but to put it on as a precursor to a GED seems counterproductive.”
Nevertheless, the school is working with students to familiarize them and to alleviate anxiety of the new.
Lower Price Hill pays the cost of taking the test for any student who passes the pre-tests and works with the school’s tutors.
Robbie Thomas, manager of the ABLE GED program, a collaboration between Cincinnati Public Schools and several community organizations, estimates students will have to type 25-30 words per minute to complete essay portions of the test in the allotted time, a tall order for some.
ABLE will work with students to beef up their keyboard skills. “I think of it in terms of a life skill,” Thomas said.
The GED program is free at ABLE, and the group even provides bus tokens for students to commute to study centers.
Reecie Stagnolia, vice president of Kentucky Adult Education, said revamping the test periodically is beneficial to ensure students have the skills of current high school graduates.
“If they pass the test, I think it will better prepare them. The test itself doesn’t prepare them, but studying and passing it will better signify that they’re ready,” Stagnolia said.
The extra cost of the 2014 test may be daunting for some students, he said, and his organization is encouraging organizations to help offset the cost.
“We’ve long encouraged workers in their communities to identify philanthropic organizations, restaurants, banks, civic groups, chambers of commerce that are willing to sponsor students,” Stagnolia said.
Student Becomes Tutor
Earning a GED is worth the effort, according to Terrance Wooten, 33, who completed his GED at Lower Price Hill Community School last year after studying for four months. He began returning to the community school voluntarily to tutor others until they hired him to do it regularly. “I was showing my appreciation for all they did for me, and I wanted to pay it back,” he said.
Wooten grew up in Over the Rhine and said he was a very good student in elementary school, winning academic competitions in math, science and reading before dropping out in eighth grade. Now living in Lower Price Hill, he plans to enroll at Cincinnati State in technical architecture.
“My dream was always to be an architect, saying I built that building, my design.”
He learned patience for his adult students through his children, now 11 and 9, and by volunteering at Oyler and Rolling Hills, he said. “People just need more self confidence. Just keep coming. Don’t give up.”
More information about earning a GED:
• ABLE GED program: Call 363-6100 or click on http://www.cps-k12.org/community/programs/able-ged
• Lower Price Hill Community School: At (513) 244.2214 or http://www.lphcs.org/index.php/programs/ged
• The test makers: http://www.gedtestingservice.com/ged-testing-service
• Ohio Department of Education: At 877-644-6338 or http://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Testing/GED/GED-Application-and-Forms
• Kentucky Adult Education: At 800/928-7323 or http://kyae.ky.gov