New GED may hinder success

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Feb 24, 2014
Photo by: Shelby Harrell Diana Little, a GED instructor at Haywood Community College, works with Teresa Frady during a language arts reading and writing class. Frady will have to retake two sections of the GED now that the tests have been upgraded.

Teresa Frady, 50, is mentally preparing herself for a rigorous semester at Haywood Community College as she attempts to earn her General Education Development exam — an accomplishment she has been working toward for 15 years.

Now that big changes have been made to the GED, the exam will be more difficult and more costly to earn, presenting even more of a challenge for students like Frady.

Frady dropped out of high school at age 16, and has been attempting to get her GED since she was in her 30s. However, being a mother of seven and a grandparent of 10 has interrupted the process.

“Life just happens,” Frady said. “I want to get my GED so I can make a better life for myself. Now it will probably take me longer.”

The GED was first developed in 1942 for soldiers returning home who had enlisted prior to completing high school. It is currently the most widely accepted high school equivalency credential in the nation and a requirement for those without a high school diploma who wish to pursue a postsecondary education.

On Jan. 1 of this year, the makers of the GED (the non-profit American Council for Education) announced a new public-private partnership with Pearson VUE and also introduced a new version of the exam.

Patricia Smith, coordinator of adult education HCC, said the new version of the exam reflected some big changes. For one, the new GED exam will only be computer-based and it will cost significantly more than its predecessor, she said.

The former five sections of the exam have now combined into four — literacy, math, science and social studies — and the exam now comes with a price tag of $120, not including fees for re-testing.

The new test is deemed more difficult than the former fill-in-the-blank exams, Smith said. The tests are now compatible with Common Core State Standards that are being implemented in K-12 schools across most of the nation, which emphasize problem solving over memorization.

Students taking the new GED exam will have to solve interactive math problems, analyze social studies and show critical thinking through essay responses on a computer.

Such a testing upgrade was overdue, Smith said, adding that the series had remained the same since 2002. Smith also believes the computer-based test will not be an issue.

“You don’t have to be a tech savvy guru to take the computer-based GED,”
Smith said. "From day one, we start working with students on computers. My feeling is we live in a computer-based world, and the faster they get comfortable with the new technology, the better prepared they will be for a real-life job in the workforce.”

Starting over

Unfortunately, when the new testing series went into effect, all previous sections of the exam are no longer applicable. For Frady, this means that the two sections she previously passed with high scores are null and void and she will have to retake them.

Even though Frady did her best to finish the GED sections last year, her busy schedule and poor health prevented it.

“That was a little disappointing that I will have to start all over,” Frady said. “That’s a bitter thing to let go of. But I had to balance school, work and I was sick, so that was a decision I had to make.”

Frady of Waynesville is a mother of seven children, ranging in ages 18-31. She currently works as a security officer at Lankford Protective Services and watches her grandchildren frequently, so she is only available to study for her GED on Mondays.

While Frady will have to retake portions of the GED, Smith said a majority of last year’s GED students, 136 total, had passed the exam in full.

Smith described Frady as a very motivated student, and is hopeful that she will be able to finish her GED this semester.

“We have to upgrade the test so students can focus on the transition to the workforce and be more GED employable,” Smith said.

Frady said she’s planning to study hard, but is nervous about taking the computer-based exam.

“It will be a challenge for me to have to use a computer,” Frady said. “But it’s worth the challenge once I have the piece of paper in my hand that says I’ve earned it.”

Scholarships available

With the price of testing shooting up from $35 to $120, many GED students will have a hard time footing that bill. Fortunately for students at HCC, scholarships provided by the HCC foundation are always available.

In the past, the foundation was able to cover GED testing costs in full, but now the foundation will likely only be able to cover a portion of it, Smith said.

“If you have a financial need, please don’t let it stop you because we have scholarships,” Smith said. “We can’t cover all $120, but it can assist with it. Hopefully it can cover a significant amount of it.”

While Frady admits to having some financial struggles, she is not planning to ask for a scholarship to subsidize her GED exam.

“The way I look at it, I have a job to pay for my schooling,” Frady said. “(The scholarships) have been offered to me by a couple of instructors, but that’s for the people who don’t have jobs.”

At the end of the day, Frady credits her motivation to the encouraging atmosphere at HCC.

“You just need people who are going to support you and believe in you,” Frady said.

Donations are always accepted for the Haywood Community College Foundation, and are tax deductible. Anyone who would like to make a donation toward the Adult Education program should call Sherri Myers at 828-627-4544.