New computer-based GED test to be more rigorous, expensive


Jacob Waller, 19, foreground, and Jasmine Joyner, 19, background, do math work during a GED class at Santa Fe College in Gainesville in this Thursday, April 11, 2013 file photo.

Brett Le Blanc/Correspondent
Published: Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 7:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 7:54 p.m.

Packing four sharpened No. 2 pencils and an extra eraser just to be safe. Worrying about skipping a bubble on the answer sheet. Waiting for other students to finish or dreading the words, “Pencils down.”

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Jacob Waller, 19, foreground, and Jasmine Joyner, 19, background, do math work during a GED class at Santa Fe College in Gainesville in this Thursday, April 11, 2013 file photo.

Brett Le Blanc/Correspondent

Beginning in January, these stressful concerns will be a thing of the past for GED test-takers as a new computer-based version of the high school equivalency test becomes mandatory.

“A paper-based version of the test will not be available,” Tiffany Cowie, public information officer for the Florida Department of Education, said in an email.

The new test version is expected to be more rigorous — and more expensive.

“The content has been aligned with the Common Core State Standards,” Cowie said. “The new test will reflect the knowledge and skills required for current graduates.”

The test now in use was launched in 2002, Cowie said, adding it is typical for tests to be updated regularly to keep up with academic standards.

The current test series is available in English, Spanish and French, and covers five subject areas: reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies.

The new test series will be available in English and Spanish. It will consist of four content tests, as the reading and writing assessments have been combined into “Reasoning Through Language Arts.”

The test also will cost nearly twice as much as the paper version. The paper test costs a maximum of $70, Cowie said. The statewide price for taking the computer test likely will be $130 for all four sub-tests, Cowie said.

Julie Falt, the Santa Fe College coordinator for adult education, said the increased cost could be a problem for some people.

“More than half of our students are unemployed because they don't have a high school diploma yet, and they don't qualify for financial aid,” she said.

The change from paper to computer will have minimal impact in Alachua County, which has been offering the computer test since July 2012. The local test center was the first in Florida to offer this format, said Charles Wise, supervisor of adult education for Alachua County Public Schools and GED chief coordinator.

“I'm especially excited because (the computer version) appears to be more effective,” he said. “More and more people are getting this credential, which is critical to becoming a successful citizen.”

Time for changes

There are several advantages to the new format, Cowie said, including instant score reports and a more flexible testing experience.

Now, those taking the paper test typically have to wait in the testing room if they finish early. It takes about four to five weeks to receive their official results.

Using the computer-based version, people can take the test at their own pace. They can view the remaining time in the corner of the computer screen, and when time is up, the computer will shut off. If they finish a content area early, they can continue to the next one.

Test-takers will have instant access to their unofficial scores through an online portal. Writing scores take a little longer to process but should be available in less than a week after the exam was taken, Cowie said.

Those who take the computer-based version have had a higher passing rate and are finishing faster, Cowie said.

“I don't know if we can provide a concrete answer (as to why). However, a student who does not have to spend time reading a paper test booklet and then tracking that information onto a bubble sheet answer form can spend more time focusing on the content of the test,” she said.

GED Testing Service, or GEDTS, conducted usability studies on the computer-based version, and developers made more than 500 modifications.

Wise said he thinks the higher passing rate is due in part to comfort.

“Ninety percent of our clientele are young adults either late teens or in their 20s,” he said. “Most young people, I think, prefer a keyboard because they're more comfortable.”

Wise noted it's faster to click the answer on the screen than to go back and forth between an answer sheet and a test booklet. Students also can flag questions to go back to, and the computer will remind them of those flagged questions, he said.

Wise said he is not concerned about students cheating using the new format. He said at least one GED examiner who works for the School Board supervises the students, and students cannot see the surrounding computer monitors.

Before entering the testing room, a student must show his or her photo ID. In addition, a photo is taken of the student at the time of admission, and the student must sign some documents, he said. Students also are provided with a locker to store their belongings and may not retrieve items until their test session has ended.

Pearson VUE, a global computer-based testing provider, has teamed up with GEDTS. Cowie said the Pearson VUE technology blocks test-takers from accessing the Internet during the test.

“The test is administered in a secure, server-based environment,” she said. “It is not accessible through a Web page.”

Changes raise some concerns

Falt said that while there are advantages to the computer-based format, she has some concerns.

Now, students who have passed parts of the test series but failed others are able to keep the passing results and retake just the parts they failed.

Falt said her main concern is that if students don't pass the parts they have failed before the new version launches on Jan. 2, their results no longer will be valid and they will have to retake the entire test series under the new version of the test.

Falt said the Santa Fe College program is making sure that when students are preparing for the test, they are working on their computer skills, too. She said “basic skills are basic skills,” and right now, the biggest thing is just letting teachers know of the changes so that students are ready for the new version.

“It's coming,” she said. “We can't change it, so we have to look at the benefits and make sure students are prepared.”

Another issue is logistics. Alachua County students can take the computer-based test only on the computers in Wise's test center, which is on School Board property, he said.

The testing center will offer more days and times each month to accommodate all the students, as the lab has only 25 computers, Wise said.

“We'll probably have four or five days a month or more if we need to,” he said. “Right now, we offer three days for the computer-based test and one day for the paper test.”

As for the content of the exam, Christine Sulander-Smith, assistant professor in adult education at Santa Fe College, said the new test will require a lot more writing with short-answer responses on the science test and a combination of short-answer and extended responses on the social studies and language arts tests.

Sulander-Smith said the extended response no longer will be opinion-based and students will have to do a lot more analyzing. She said students will be using a new formula sheet and a new calculator on the math test, too.

But she said she doesn't anticipate any major problems.

“I was here when we did the change from the previous test to the 2002 series and everybody was nervous about that, but we have adjusted,” Sulander-Smith said. “Probably by summer or fall 2014, we'll have forgotten about this test, and it'll just be the 2014 test.”

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