News & Media

Revised GED Test, many students struggling, but the Adult Education program at IU13 is ready to help

01/24/2015 Lancaster Online By Tim Stuhldreher

With recently revised GED Test, many students are struggling, but the Adult Education program at IU13 is ready help students navigate the changes and prepare for the test.

Randolph “Ran” Speller is frustrated, to put it mildly.
In November 2013, the 37-year-old city man started studying for his GED. He knew a new version of the four-part test was coming out in January 2014, but he decided not to rush things by taking the existing version. He didn’t think he was ready yet.
In March 2014, he passed the social studies component. In May he passed the reading/writing and science sections. That left math.
Between May and October, Speller failed it four times.
The first couple of times, he blamed himself. Now he’s not so sure.
“I’ve been working hard at this,” he said. “I really think (the test is) just a little too much.”
His GED instructor, Deb Lovett, said if he’d taken the old GED, “there’s no question in my mind that he would have passed.”
Nationwide, thousands of people appear to be in the same situation as Speller. So far, the statistics for 2014 are showing an unprecedented drop in the number of people passing the GED.
The test’s developers say they changed it to align it with the Common Core and better reflect what students currently learn in high school. The GED is revised regularly; the previous overhaul was in 2002.
There are new, advanced math topics. There are more essay questions.
Critics say the new test is unreasonably hard, especially for adults who have been out of school a while.
The test now must be taken by computer at an official testing center — no more paper-based tests — and students are generally expected to pay for it by credit card. Critics say those factors hinder access for older test-takers and those with limited means.
The numbers
In Pennsylvania, nearly 22,700 people completed the GED in 2013, and 17,654 of them passed.
In 2014, according to unofficial preliminary figures from the Department of Education, just 3,644 people completed the test, and 2,194 passed.
The net effect: A nearly 90-percent decline in the number of high school equivalency diplomas awarded in the Keystone State.
“That’s pretty scary,” said Trish Link, assistant adult education director at Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13.
IU13 and the Literacy Council of Lancaster-Lebanon are the two federally funded organizations in Lancaster County that offer GED preparation programs.
As word of the test’s difficulty gets out, fewer people are even attempting it, Link said. Of those who do, many struggle. The result: Thousands of hopes delayed, thousands of people not advancing their careers.
 “It is barring people from earning a living wage and gaining employment,” said Tim Shenk, adult education director at IU13.
What it means When people earn more money, they pay more in taxes — or start paying taxes in the first place. They are more self-reliant, less likely to need public assistance. It’s a win all the way around, Shenk and his colleagues said.
“We want people to succeed,” Shenk said.
Students now need more preparation and study than they did before, Lovett said. (She, too, works for IU13.) That’s extra time before they can be employed — and it means tutoring programs are being asked to offer more instruction without additional funding or resources, Shenk said.
Well, but don’t employers need higher-level skills than they used to?
That’s true, Shenk said. On the other hand, what if you’re a hard worker, reliable, with all the skills needed for a job, but you can’t get past quadratic equations and polynomials?
“We don’t want the GED to be a hurdle per se,” he said.
Students are eager to be employed, but they’re getting discouraged, Lovett said.
Some end up taking the easy way out, she said, buying bogus “diplomas” from websites and hoping employers won’t notice.
Two tests?
People sometimes have the false impression that the GED isn’t very demanding. In fact, those who pass it “are truly demonstrating some very high-level skills,” Shenk said.
In the GED community, there has been some discussion about having either two tests or two scores, he said: One for students who want to go to college, and one for those heading right into the work force.
Kim Ellis is director of human resources for The Performance Group, a staffing agency based in Ephrata.
Jobs are still out there for people without a high school diploma or GED, she said, but in most cases you’re looking at a maximum wage of $10 an hour or so.
To earn more, you’re almost always going to need additional qualifications, she said.
 “An educated person moves up faster,” she said.
Don’t give up
Young people, with their more recent exposure to schooling, usually do better at the GED. Enrique Camara, 19, recently passed it.
Camara studied in the Arbor Education & Training program at CareerLink after dropping out of McCaskey High School in early 2014.
Camara said math was his best subject in school, yet even he failed the test’s math section twice, finally passing it on his third attempt.
Camara wants to enroll in Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology’s construction program, and follow that up with an electrical certification program.
Asked if the GED material seemed relevant to his career goals, Camara said for him it was more of a hoop to jump through. For people taking academic courses in college, rather than learning a trade, it might be different, he said.
Speller is eager to get on with his education. He wants to attend Thaddeus Stevens and pursue a career in water treatment.
He admits he went through a tough period as a teenager and young adult. Since then, he has put his life back together.
His top priority is his family. He is married with three sons, Randolph, Isiah and Elijah, all involved in sports. His daughter, Porscha, is a star basketball player who earned a scholarship to West Chester University.
He said he talks with his children about his uphill climb with the GED and encourages them to stay in school. Better to get your diploma “the easiest way possible,” he said.
Shenk and Lovett said they’ve seen adjustments made to the new GED in response to complaints, and they’re hoping for more. They’ll continue to advocate for their students, they said.
In the meantime, Shenk said the message for students is: “Don’t give up.”
Take advantage of the resources that are out there, he stressed.

“We want to help,” he said.