GED testers dash for the finish before changes to the test arrive in January

sgilman@newsobserver.comDecember 17, 2013 

Wednesday is the last day for students to finish the GED test at Wake Tech before a revamped one arrives in January.

All year, students have rushed to complete the high school equivalency exam to avoid losing their current scores and paying a bigger fee that will come with the new test. Wake Tech testing seats are all full on Wednesday, and the rush has been so strong that the college added two weeks of test days.

“We wanted to help as many students as we could,” said Monica Gemperlein, dean of college and career readiness at Wake Tech.

This month, the testing center has provided paper tests for at least 500 students. In the first week of December alone, 235 took the exam. Gemperlein said they normally give 75-100 paper tests in early December.

On Jan. 2, a new version of the GED test will be ushered in to reflect the new Common Core standards now in place in North Carolina’s public schools. Those who don’t finish the old version by Wednesday will lose their scores for any of the five sections of the old test – language arts/writing, language arts/reading, math, social studies and science.

The new test will have only four sections, with writing as an integrated part of language arts, math, social studies and science, instead of being a separate component.

On Tuesday, in the adult education center on Capital Boulevard, 53-year-old Tanya Palmer waited for the math test, her final section.

She smiled as she thought about the possible end of her two-year process of studying for her high school equivilency.

“I’m not going to stress,” she said.

The idea that some people will lose previous test scores come January seemed harsh to her.

“I think it’s unfair,” she said. “If people have already gone through and gotten four subjects, they should be able to go as long as they like to get the final one, because that’s a lot of hard work to throw away.”

Jeremy Clark, 36, also waited for the math test on Tuesday. Math, he said, is his hardest subject, and he has already failed it multiple times. Another failure would mean having to start the whole process over again. Passing would mean a chance at higher education.

“I’m banking on passing this time,” he said. “It’s a foot in the door.”

Students will not only lose any previous progress, they will also have to pay heftier fees. The current GED test offers a paper version for $35, and a computer version for $120. The new test will be computer-only, and $120.

Computer-only tests – and the fact that registration will be online-only – means more challenges.

“It will be a problem for some students,” said Gemperlein said. “Access to technology is definitely one of the obstacles we know our students will face.”

She and other staff will be helping students who are not computer literate learn how to use a keyboard, how to navigate a menu bar and plot points on a graph using a drag-and-drop method.

The school has been administering computer-based tests since Oct. 28, and the method offers at least two benefits. For one, students can take all the exam components in one sitting, and they can get their scores immediately after they take the test. Paper tests, on the other hand, have to be scheduled and taken section by section. It can take weeks to receive scores.

Instant scores are a big hit for current computer test takers, Gemperlein said. “They love it. That is probably the biggest benefit.”

But the prospect of higher fees and greater difficulty with the new test have led to huge numbers of students pushing to finish this year.

“This year has been a record year for us,” Gemperlein said. “We increased our numbers about 25 percent over the previous year.”

Wake Tech had 744 GED test graduates in the 2011-12 school year, compared with 1,019 graduates in the 2012-13 school year.

The adult education center can currently test about 50 students a day on 15 computers. All testing times are full through Wednesday, but Wake Tech is taking reservations for the next test day on Jan. 8. By then, all tests will be the new, computer-only version.

The last class to graduate this year had its ceremony on Monday, where 842 people were eligible for their high school equivalency diploma. Students who pass their final components of the GED test in December will graduate with the next class on May 5.

Janelle Chambers, 19, prepared to take her last test this week.

“I’m excited to get it over with,” she said. “I’m trying to finish because who wants to be in school all your life?”

Gilman: 919-829-8955

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