In keeping with North Carolina’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative for students in grades K-12, the GED (General Education Development) program is also changing its standards.
The North Carolina Justice Center, an advocacy group that pushes for the elimination of poverty, has stated that the changes, which will go into effect Jan. 1, could disproportionately impact “low-income, low skilled adults,” who are among those most likely to be without a GED.
“The goal of adult education should be to ensure that all students are equipped with the basic skills they need to access higher levels of education that will lead to good, quality jobs,” stated the Center’s Sabine Schoenbach. “The GED represents an important bridge to further skills training and education. Adequate funding for basic skills training is therefore necessary, and the connection of basic skills to credential attainment in ways that engage low-income working adults is key to strengthening a path to self-sufficiency.”
The new GED program includes changes in the administration and test fees for the program and is more rigorous. Michael Harris, dean of Adult Literacy Programs at Forsyth Technical Community College, said the new tests, which cover four areas – math, science, social studies and language – instead of the traditional five-subject format, are necessary to keep GED students on pace with traditional public school students, who are held to a higher standard under Common Core, which was adopted during the 2012-13 school year.
“Just like public schools, we have to keep current,” said Harris, an alumnus of North Carolina A&T State University. “They’ll be more rigorous, more relevant, and that’s the best way to meet 21st Century standards.”
Those who have not completed all five components of the existing test series by Dec. 31 will be required to start over under the new curriculum. As a result, Forsyth Tech has seen an influx of test-takers in recent months. Harris said 1,200 people in Forsyth and Stokes counties are expected to take the test before the new standards are adopted. The community college has added additional test times to accommodate those who are already working on their GED under the current standards. Forsyth Tech’s last orientation session will be held on Dec. 2, and the final GED test under the current standards, which were adopted in 2002, will be held on Dec. 18.
Paper and pencil GED tests will be a thing of the past come January, when the Pearson VUE testing company will transition all GED exams to computerized formats. Testing fees will increase from $35 to $120 for the full battery of tests.
Fred Bazemore, director of Program & Agency Operations at Experiment in Self Reliance, believes the increase in test fees will present an obstacle for community members who don’t have access to supportive services to help them offset the cost and for service providers like ESR, which has partnered with Forsyth Tech to offer GED test prep courses for more than three decades.
“It’s something we hate seeing because as a nonprofit, it hits us in the pocket a little bit,” said Bazemore, an ESR employee for the past 10 years. “…It’s just another obstacle for those who are wanting to achieve economic self-sufficiency.”
The increase in test fees won’t dissuade the agency from helping its clients, Bazemore said. ESR will continue to assist its clients in covering fees for the GED, which Bazemore says is a key component in reaching a higher economic plane.
Harris said Forsyth Tech, which currently offers GED test preparation classes to more than 5,500 students at more than 20 sites in Forsyth and Stokes counties, is already preparing for the myriad changes the new program will entail. The community college is developing courses that will incorporate computer literacy elements to help those who aren’t familiar with computers to prepare for the test next year, and is working to secure funding to offset the cost increase for those who are hardest hit by the increase, Harris said.
“We don’t care if you don’t know anything about a computer,” he said. “I’m going to make sure you know what you need to know.”
Bazemore, a Winston-Salem State University alumnus, said the move to computerized testing will help those who plan to further their education at a two or four-year institution to reach their goals faster. Despite the challenges it presents, ESR is excited about the rollout of the new GED program; Bazemore said it presents a prime opportunity for the agency to remind its clients and staff of the importance of rising to the occasion when obstacles present themselves.
“We adjust and we adapt. We encourage our clients to not allow barriers that arise now or down the road to deter them from their goals of being economically self-sufficient,” he said. “Change is inevitable in anything you do, and we preach that to our clients, to always be prepared for change.”
Forsyth Tech has a long track record of preparing students to be successful on the GED tests through its test prep courses, and that won’t change, Harris said. He implored those in the community who want to get their GED not to let the increase stand in their way.
“Yes, it’s going to affect them with the $120 (fee), but look what it’s going to do for them in the long run,” he said of test-takers. “If they get it, it’s worth it.”
Although the transition will take some getting used to, Harris said it represents an important new era in education.
“It’s not the ending,” he said. “It’s the beginning of something new.”