"If you're going to finish it, do it now."
Those are the words echoed by Program Manager Donna Smith and GED Preparation Instructor Betsie Griffin at the Warren Forest Higher Education Council when asked about changes coming next year to the requirements to earn a GED.
"Anybody who has taken the test and hasn't passed it will lose everything they have done Jan. 1, 2014," Smith said. "So the best thing they can do, is get in here and finish."
Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton
Forest-Warren Hi-Ed GED Instructor Sandra Harris works with two students during a session held on Wednesday evening. Changes to the testing process will require that students currently working to obtain their GED must complete the program by Jan. 1, 2014 or potentially have to start from the beginning.
The issue arises because the GED isn't really a single test. It's actually five of them.
To earn a GED, a person needs to pass each of the tests; language arts reading, language arts writing, mathematics, science and social studies; with a score of at least 410. Additionally, the person needs a cumulative score over all tests of 2,250, meaning they need to score an additional 200 points over all tests.
If a person takes the assessments and passes one or more, but not all tests, they can keep their passing scores and apply them to earning the overall GED. Scores can be combined from multiple testing sessions to meet the GED requirements so long as they have earned a passing score on each individual test and a total score of 2,250 or more.
"We don't want them to lose those scores," Smith said for those who have passed one or more of the tests. "Betsie will work to get you there, even if you have a disability."
Since the new GED requirements will make significant changes to the content and even the form of the evaluation, the company behind the assessment, GED Testing Service, is not allowing prior scores to count toward the overall GED starting Jan. 1.
"We started a closeout campaign last November to really get those folks who have all but one or two parts completed in," Armando Diaz with GED Testing said.
The changes, according to the company, are part of an effort to ensure those holding a GED can compete with traditional high school graduates.
"I think the big thing we're doing," Diaz explained. "Is aligning the test with college and career readiness."
GED Testing has incorporated the criteria of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for curriculum. The CCSS, according to the CCSS Initiative, are, "designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers."
"The GED credential is not the end of the road, it should be a springboard," Diaz said.
A new evaluation system is also being put into place which will guide not only test scoring, but content as well. GED Testing is doing away with usage of Bloom's Taxonomy of learning objectives as a test development guide and adopting the more in-depth Webb's Depth of Knowledge model, which evaluates complexity of cognitive process in addition to the individual learner processes Bloom's is designed for.
"Students will be required to approach the assessments much differently than in the past including the way in which instruction will take place," Warren County School District Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Gary Weber said of the change. "The major focus of this type of assessment is to prepare students to be thinkers and not simply be able to recall information. This is something that employers and post-secondary schools are looking for. Prospective employees or students that are able to proble solve and show creativity."
All of this translates into a new type of assessment more in line with the proficiencies today's high school graduates are leaving school with, according to GED Testing.
"We could have just put out a new test," Diaz pointed out. "But we decided, given the market today, people are going to need additional training."
While the new assessment will only feature four tests; reasoning through language arts, mathematical reasoning, science and social studies; some content will change along with how the test evaluates proficiency.
Rather than a single long-essay on the writing test, for instance, the new test will feature a number of shorter writing assignments dispersed throughout subject areas.
"I see that as a positive," Smith said. "As the test administrator, I see a lot of people get thrown by the essay."
The new test will also feature higher level mathematics content than the current test. The new test will raise the highest level mathematics on the test from algebra II level material to trigonometry. A development some might find daunting.
"A lot of it is fear, especially if it's been a few years since they've seen it," Griffin said
"A lot of people are mathphobic," Smith added.
The new test will feature an online calculator to aid in math testing.
According to GED Testing, the fear over new content are largely unfounded.
"It's going to be mostly the same content. There will be different item types, but a lot of the current material will remain," Diaz noted. "I think the cut-off rate (for those passing) will remain about the same. They won't drastically change because we're going to keep a 60 percent "norming" rate for the test," Diaz said. "The 2014 test will be the same as we do it today. If we took the test to high school graduates, about 60 percent would pass and 40 percent would fail. We do that now."
"Norming" is the practice of scaling test scores to the performance of a nationally representative group of graduating high school seniors taking the same test so that an approximate 60-40 pass-fail ratio is achieved.
Last year, Pennsylvania computer-based test takers substantially exceeded the 60 percent pass rate.
In 2012, according to Diaz, approximately 760 computer-based tests were administered in Pennsylvania. The pass rate for individuals taking those tests; 93 percent.
The new test is also entirely computer-based.
"If you're an older individual and you need to improve your computer skills, maybe you need to get in here with Betsie," Smith said. "At this point, we cannot require that you go see Betsie. If you want to take the test, I have to let you. As it gets closer (to 2014), I'm going to be, even more than now, recommending that you go see Betsie to see if you are ready. If you are, she'll let you know and let you take the test."
"Our test takers will need to demonstrate a basic understanding of technology," Diaz said. "We don't test for it, but if they pass the test on the computer, they have a basic understanding, and employers want at least a basic understanding"
"I foresee having to start teaching computer skills as part of the class," Griffin prognosticated.
Nationally, 88 percent of test takers pass when the test is administered by computer, compared to 71 percent for the paper-based test last year. The computer-based test takers also finished their tests an average of more than two hours faster than their paper-based counterparts.
For adult educators like Griffin, GED Testing said they will be making efforts to provide training. However, Diaz warned, the task is more than they can handle alone.
"We're going to be working to help the adult educators in the community that we can," Diaz said. "We're going to be putting out some professional development materials."
Another new feature is the ability to take the test in sections. The current assessment requires that you take all five sections at once the first time you take it.
"I see that as a positive," Smith said. "She (Griffin) can take individual groups nd get them ready for just individual sections before moving on to another subject."
The Warren Forest Higher Education Council offers free GED classes on:
Mondays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m., 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.
Fridays from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. until 4 p.m.
Thursdays from 5:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.
Griffin handles daytime classes while Sandy Harris handles evening classes.
For information call the council at 723-3222.