New GED changes put pressure on Tri-City students

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 26, 2013 

A West Richland man is getting in just under the wire when it comes to earning his GED.

James Parker III, 35, said he began taking courses for the high school equivalency degree at Columbia Basin College in Pasco in early September and expects to finish by the end of October.

"I signed up just in time," he said. "It seems that's how I live my life."

But about 1,700 Tri-Citians still are under pressure to finish their high school equivalency degrees before the end of the year.

People have until Thursday to sign up to take and finish the current GED tests before the changes begin in January. If they're not done with all five parts by then, they'll have to start over. Beginning in January the GED test is changing.

"It's heartbreaking for those with one test left," said instructor Teresa Sundblad.

More than 700 people attended GED preparation courses at CBC in the 2012-13 school year and took tests at the accredited testing center on the college's Pasco campus.

The GED Testing Service is administered by a public-private partnership of higher education groups Pearson, which makes educational materials, and the American Council on Education.

There are five tests in the series -- reading, writing, math, social studies and science. Instructors said test takers need a basic understanding of algebra and geometry and good reading comprehension skills to succeed.

The tests last changed in 2002, but instructors said the modifications were minor compared to what is coming. The new GED will be a series of four tests, with reading and writing combined into a single language arts exam.

People will be required to know social studies, science and math rather than be able to provide answers based on reading a passage and answering questions, said Daphne Larios, interim assistant dean for basic skills at CBC. Stronger math skills also will be needed.

"(The new tests) focus more on depth of knowledge," she said.

The new tests also are computer-based, meaning test takers have to be proficient with a mouse and be able to type at a speed of at least 20 words per minute to finish in time, said Anita Smith, associate professor of basic skills.

Sundblad said there will be some who won't struggle, just as there are now. But others, especially those who spent little if any time in a high school classroom or have learning disabilities, will have high hurdles to jump.

"In the past, some students with a particularly good math foundation but no knowledge of algebra could pass," she said. "Not anymore."

The changes also represent a challenge for CBC -- the college will have to pay $4 for each practice test it gives to those taking preparation classes.

The practice tests previously were free. Test takers pay $150 to take the GED, plus additional fees for retakes and for classes. Larios said it's not yet clear how the college will handle the additional costs.

Word has gotten out about the testing changes, instructors said, leading to people flooding in to sign up for testing slots, classes and study labs.

While it's possible for some students, such as Parker, to finish all the tests in as little as two months, many need more time, and Larios said some are being advised to enroll in preparation classes now but not take any tests until after the new year.

Even with the test changing, Parker said he'd encourage anyone thinking about taking the GED to sign up.

"You'll be amazed at yourself," he said.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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