Adult learners urged to finish GED before changes come in 2014

Luz Gomez, center, studies history with her daughters Sharlene Trinidad, left and Marylu Trinidad, right at her apartment. Her daughters, both in school, help her understand English and history as she studies for her GED. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Apr. 24, 2013 9:04 am Updated: May. 8, 2013 12:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Luz Gomez of Quincy is determined to earn a GED certificate this year.

She doesn't want to wait until 2014, when the fee to take the GED test will more than double to $130.

"I would like to be done this year because it affects my budget," Gomez said. "I really don't have that much money, so that's the reason I need to be done."

Gomez has a high school diploma from Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States, but she needs to have a general educational development (GED) certificate -- the equivalent of a high school diploma -- to land a good job here.

So she has been preparing to take the test by participating in a free GED prep class offered through John Wood Community College's downtown adult education center on Fifth Street.

Gomez attends sessions for three hours a day, four days a week, to get ready for the test. She also gets help studying at home from her daughters.

"English isn't my primary language," she said. "I'm from Puerto Rico, and I speak very well Spanish."

Gomez is one of many adult learners being encouraged to take the GED exam this year before the price hike -- and some other changes -- take effect Jan. 1.

Debbie Niederhauser, regional superintendent of schools for Adams and Pike counties, oversees GED testing in both counties. She said the price hike is a big concern because she knows some people won't be able to afford the new $130 fee. The test currently costs $50.

"That really is bothersome to me that it's going to cost that much," she said.

Another big change is that the GED will no longer be offered as a pencil-and-paper test. It will be done entirely on a computer at the Regional Office of Education headquarters in the Adams County Courthouse.

"I worry about it because some people don't have basic computer skills," she said.

Another change in GED procedures also bothers Niederhauser. She said the current test is comprised of five parts -- science, social studies, writing, reading and math. A person taking the test now can pass one or more section at a time and "bank" their scores and then come back later to take a different portion.

"You don't have to take the whole battery again," Niederhauser said. "But what happens is at the end of this year, those partial scores will be thrown out."

People who haven't finished the test will have to start all over.

Because of these changes, Niederhauser is urging people to finish the GED this year -- especially those who have partially completed the exam.

"You really want to ramp it up and get finished this year, so you can have it completed before you have to start back over from scratch," she said. "They'll get their GED and move on to their future sooner."

Educators at the JWCC adult education center also have been urging adult learners to get the GED out of the way this year if they can.

"We highly encourage them to get it done," said Judy Taylor, a transition advisor.

She said the GED to be offered next year will be a "totally new" exam that complies with the Common Core educational standards being adopted by states across the nation, including Illinois.

"The goal is to make students more college and career ready," Taylor said. "It will require more critical thinking skills, more writing."

Duane Phillips, a GED instructor at the downtown center, said his biggest concern with the new test involves the pending price increase.

"It's a problem for some already" at $50, he said. "If people don't have jobs and don't have a degree, it's a problem right now. It's going to be a bigger problem. So if anybody needs to finish one part of the test, they should be in here now and taking it now."

Shawna Cawthon of Quincy started studying for the GED in January. She plans to take the exam in May. She, too, fears the pending fee hike will be a burden for many adult learners.

"I think it's going to be a big problem for a lot of people on tight budgets," she said.