By MARIAN GALBRAITH
Beverly Capps, right, helps Kari Henson and other students prepare to take the General Education Development (GED) test via computer instead of pa-per test booklets, one of many changes that are set to take effect in 2014. —Staff Photo by Marian Galbraith
By all accounts, the General Educational Development (GED) or high-school equivalency test, is undergoing the largest overhaul since its inception in 1942, but the new version is drawing major concerns from local adult literacy advocates.
The Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development’s Adult Education Division has been preparing since last year for major changes to the test that will take effect in 2014, and are strongly urging test-takers to finish this year.
“Beginning January 1, 2014, the GED test will cost more, must be taken on a computer, and will contain significant content changes,” said State Commissioner Karla Davis, “so we encourage anyone who has not earned their GED to do so now.”
Beverly Capps, director of the Tullahoma office of Coffee County Adult Education, said people who have not finished the current GED test by December 31, 2013, will have to start over when the 2014 edition begins, and that any failed sections cannot be re-taken next year.
“The state will basically wipe out all the test scores after this year,” Capps said, “so if you don’t finish all the sections this year, you’ll have to start over.”
The stated cost of the new test will be a minimum of $120, as opposed to the $50 to $65 price tag in Coffee County for the current version, which has been in effect since 2002. The cost to re-take failed sections of the new test will also go from $10 per section to $24.
Dot Watson, a long-time advocate and chairman of the Literacy Council of Coffee County, sees the new test as a disaster for local adults who wish to obtain their diploma.
“The Literacy Council has been donating $25,000 per year to cover the $50 cost of the existing test for those who need it,” Watson said, “so if the cost goes to $120, we won’t be able to pay for it any more.
“Besides, many of these adults don’t have the computer literacy to take the test on a computer anyway.”
Capps echoed Watson’s concerns, adding that in order to register online for the test, GED seekers must also use a credit card, which many do not have.
“They’ll have to go get some kind of pre-paid card before they can even register,” Capps said, adding that roughly 25 states, including Tennessee, are desperately seeking alternatives to the new test.
Marva Doremus, the Tennessee administrator for the Adult Education Division, said the number of states now seeking an alternative is up to 37, and that a large task force has been put together in Tennessee for the express purpose of finding an alternative by next year.
“We have a lot of concerns about the new test,” Doremus said. “We’ve known about it for a long time and we plan to get everyone on computer eventually, but the fact that the new test will have no paper alternative at all seems a little harsh.
“Even the ACT test still has a paper alternative, so we don’t see why the GED should have to go straight from paper to computer all in one year, with no transition period. That seems like an unfair disadvantage.”
Washington-based officials, however, seem to believe the new test will better prepare students for the needs of a modern-day workplace, including the need for computer literacy itself.
According to C.T. Turner, director of public affairs for the GED Testing Service in Washington, D.C., the 2014 version was developed by a joint venture between the non-profit American Council on Education and the for-profit company, Pearson VUE, a global provider of computer-based testing, development, delivery and data management for a variety of certification tests and college entrance exams.
He said the revised GED will measure the knowledge and skills that more closely reflect Common Core State Standards, which Tennessee has signed onto. He also said most jobs today require at least some basic computer skills anyway.
“People have low expectations for adult education,” Turner said. “One in six adults now live below the poverty line. We’re supposed to be preparing them for the workforce, but the high school equivalency does not always give them the skills they need to get hired in today’s workplace, or even complete college-level coursework.
“Besides, most jobs today are posted on the internet. The ten largest employers, including Wal-Mart, advertise their jobs online and require some amount of computer work as part of the job.”
Seeks Gradual Change
While Doremus agrees that computer literacy is the wave of the future and that Tennessee is already providing the current test on computer in several test centers, she still expressed concern that eliminating the paper-based option altogether by next year is unrealistic.
“We’d like to see a more gradual transition to the computer,” she said.
“Another concern we have is that the fees, the data and the content are all being controlled, or half-controlled, by a for-profit company that won’t allow us to have any control over what credentials the state is issuing any more.”
Doremus said a task force comprised of state and federal departments of education, the Tennessee Board of Regents, University of Tennessee, the Department of Economic and Community Development and several others, is currently seeking alternatives to the new test that will address the needs of the modern-day workplace without eliminating the state’s input altogether.
“There are several companies out there who are developing new tests that address the need for higher proficiencies in core areas,” she said, “and the task force will be making recommendations to the state legislature.
“We have a big chore on our hands, but we believe we can find an alternative by next year that will address Tennessee’s concerns and we will be issuing press releases about it as we go.”
Watson said the adult education center in Tullahoma does not have enough computers right now to even prepare GED seekers for the new test, and she was unsure whether the existing test centers, such as at Motlow College, would have sufficient computers to deliver the test, either.
“Hopefully there will be some funding for computers, but right now there’s not,” she said.
In addition to the massive switch from paper-and-pencils to PC’s and the higher levels of math proficiency required, Turner said the new GED will also provide more detailed scoring information to help students identify specific weaknesses within the five subject areas, writing, reading, science, social studies and math, to develop the skills they will need for college readiness as well as in the workplace.
“It only requires two computers to administer the test, and most of the existing testing centers have at least a few computers available to do that,” Turner said.
“This test does not require an online connection, either. It’s installed onto a PC or laptop that can be taken out to rural areas, if necessary, for those who don’t have transportation.”
With regard to the cost of the test, Turner said each state has substantial control over what they charge the end user for the test, depending on the level of subsidy provided by the state.
He added that, in his opinion, $50 to $65 is probably far less than the true cost of the existing paper test in Tennessee, and that computerization should bring the true costs down.
“California currently charges between $125 and $150 for the test, while Michigan charges $300 and in West Virginia, it’s free,” Turner said. “It just depends how much each particular state supports the effort locally, either through public or private sources.”
Doremus said her understanding is that Pearson VUE controls the price, and that it was originally stated to be $200, but that the company finally reduced it to $120 as a result of pressure from the states.
“We’re not sure how people are going to afford the price increase, but this is another item on the agenda for the task force,” she said.
Turner stated that he feels $120 is not an unreasonable price for the GED and that the computer version offers significant advantages.
“Where else can you take a 7.5-hour test for only $120?” he asked. “Most certification tests charge that much for a one- to two-hour test.
“Preliminary studies on the national level have also proven that computerized testing is less stressful than paper-and-pencil testing, and those taking the computer version show higher scores and finish sooner than their paper counterparts.”
According to a press release on the tn.gov website, Tennessee still has 900,000 to one million adults without a high school diploma, that almost 29,000 students dropped out of high school in 2011, while only 12,047 Tennesseans earned their GED last year.
State Offers Aid
To help existing GED Test Centers transition from paper-based testing to computer-based testing, Tennessee is offering three pilot programs for people to take the current GED test on computer before the launch of the new 2014 series.
Test Centers at UT-Martin, Tennessee State University, and Walters State Community College are taking part in the pilot program.
The fee to take the current test on computer at one of the pilot centers is $120.
Capps and other adult education officials also warn test-takers that they must take the GED in person at a GED testing center, whether it’s on paper or PC, but never online.
“There have been some scams by companies pretending to offer the GED online,” Capps said, “but you can’t take it that way. You have to go in to a test center to take it, whether it’s on computer or on paper.”
More information is available at the website http://www.tn.gov/labor-wfd/AE and www.gedtestingservice.com.