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GED testing to undergo major changes in 2014

Mary Rittenhouse received her GED at 76 years old. Her daughter convinced her to gain a GED.

For years, the GED test has offered those without a high school diploma a low-cost, second chance.

But the General Educational Development test is soon to become far more difficult, more costly and administered out of town.

The clock is ticking, Community Education director Jill Dickinson reminds those who may have completed a portion of the five exams, or are considering taking them all.

In January 2014, a new testing system will be implemented. Park Rapids will no longer be a testing site. And the exams will be more difficult, on par with the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests required for traditional high school graduation.

Geometry and calculus will be components of the new math tests. The current exam just measures algebra know-how.

If all five exams - math, science, social studies, reading and writing - have not been taken by the end of 2013, the completed tests will be negated. Students hoping to acquire a GED will be starting over.

"It will cost more per test," Dickinson has been told, possibly double the current $80 for the five, $17 if parceled. And testing will require travel to Wadena or Bemidji.

"Transportation is an issue for some," Dickinson said.

Last year, the GED Testing Service - part of the nonprofit American Council on Education - announced it was merging with Pearson, a for-profit British company, one of the largest educational testing companies in the world.

The 2014 GED test will be aligned to the Common Core Standards, uniform education standards that have not been fully adopted in Minnesota.

And the test will be offered only on computer, which may prove another hardship for some who are not computer literate.

Classes, however, will continue to be offered in Park Rapids at no charge.

Last year, 33 received a GED through the Park Rapids program, Liz Stone the adult basic ed instructor.

After a pre-test, Stone works with students on areas of need before the testing itself.

Limited scholarships are currently available for the tests, but with the shift in location, that money may follow, Dickinson said.

Though the GED is by far the most popular high school equivalency credential, states are exploring other options.

Minnesota, Dickinson said, is looking at alternatives, possibly an "adult diploma" that recognizes achievement, but not on the level of the GED tests.

Minnesota residents who are not currently enrolled in high school, at least 19 (or at least 16 with an age waiver) are eligible to take the test.

Not all of them are young, Community Education office manager Tammy Boyd points out of the "students."

A man who'd enjoyed a successful career in the insurance industry - but had not graduated high school - set the GED as a retirement goal.

Another was a 76-year-old woman, Mary Rittenhouse, whose father considered education unnecessary for girls. She dropped out of school as a junior.

But 60 years later, her daughter convinced her to gain a GED.

"I'd recommend it to anyone," she said of the feeling of closure and accomplishment.

The state called to verify her age after she'd taken the tests, assuming her reported status as a septuagenarian to be a typo.

And a dad who dropped out of high school, whose son was struggling with the rigors of academia, decided he'd best set an example. He too completed the tests.

Some heading in for testing and tutelage are in the 30- to 40-year age range. They are working and need the "paper" for advancement. Or, financially sound, they'd like to gain post-secondary education.

Others are in their mid-20s, some with grandparents "who've had enough" and urge them to finish school, move on with their lives.

The tests, depending on individual ability, can be completed within a month, Dickinson said. Others need a bit more tutelage.

Dickinson and Stone have also worked with inmates at the law enforcement center.

"That was very satisfying," Dickinson said, "knowing you are making a difference."

Not everyone using the adult basic ed program is seeking the GED, she said. Some seek help with learning to use a computer, request math tutelage or assistance with drafting a résumé.

Meanwhile, Dickinson emphasizes that "now is the time" to complete the remaining tests, or take them all.

"Finish. Or start all over."