Beware: a GED deadline looms

A whole new set of tests is on its way, so finish up if you're working on it

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Forty thousand Pennsylvanians face a critical deadline this year. Few of them know about it.

Forty thousand is the number of the state's residents who have started the process of getting their high school diploma by taking the GED tests. They have passed one or more of the five tests, but they have not completed the entire series.

The GED Testing Service in Washington, D.C., is completely revamping the GED tests. The deadline is Dec. 31 to complete and pass all sections of the current GED test.

As of Jan. 1, students who have not completed the five tests must start over with the new 2014 version of the GED tests and will have to pay the test fee again. This will be a computer-based test; the Testing Service will no longer offer a paper-and-pencil version. The tests will also be revised to keep up with evolving high school graduation standards, so they are expected to be more difficult than the current exams.

The GED is no longer viewed as a second-class or low-level high school credential. Research has shown that many regular high school graduates would be unable to pass the exams. The 2002 version of the tests added essay-writing, and the 2014 version is expected to add even more writing. This ensures that students are tested in more ways than just multiple-choice questions.

The ability of these 40,000 Pennsylvanians to complete the tests and move on to jobs or higher education is crucial to our economy. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that citizens who have their high school diploma earn $320,000 more than non-graduates over a working lifetime. Just think of all the tax revenue and consumer spending that is made possible by those higher wages. Think also of the role models that these adults provide to their children and family members when they complete their secondary education and show the value of it to others.

If we do nothing, many of these Pennsylvanians will remain dependent on taxpayer-funded programs of social services and unemployment benefits, since they are unable to find work. By assisting them to finish their education, we can move them into jobs and self-sufficiency.

Rob is a student at Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council who is studying for the GED tests. He has taken and passed all the sections with the exception of the math test, which many students find to be the most difficult. After all, how many adults use algebra and geometry on a daily basis? Like many others, Rob needs a thorough review before taking the math portion of the GED tests. His window of opportunity is getting shorter and shorter.

Many of his peers have not even found a seat in a class, since many GED preparation programs are at capacity and have waiting lists of people who want to enroll. The four agencies that run preparation programs in Allegheny County are doing their best to be responsive, but they need ways to expand enrollment. The prospective students, who want to succeed and contribute to our economy, also need our help.

The cost of the new GED tests is creating controversy throughout the country. Fees for the paper-and-pencil version of the tests are $60 to $75 in the Pittsburgh area, with variations in other parts of the country. However, the new computer-based test coming in 2014 will require a fee of $120. Some states add an administrative fee on top of that. In many cases, these fees are prohibitive for low-income individuals.

Pennsylvania once took the lead in helping adults get back on track by completing the GED tests. In 1986 Gov. Dick Thornburgh signed into law our state's Adult Literacy Act, which provided funding for GED classes. Enrollment soared, and thousands of students entered the workforce as a result. However, we have lost our leadership position in recent years, and other states are doing far more to support these learners. Those states understand the economic benefit of doing so.

What action can you take to help people who need a high school diploma? If you work in a library or in social services, share this information with your clients or patrons. If you have a relative or friend who didn't complete high school, share this information with that person. If you have employees who want to improve themselves through education, tell them about these changes. If you work in public education, share this information with parents and families of students. Our organization is prepared to assist you with printed materials and speakers.

Forty thousand Pennsylvanians are waiting, and the clock is ticking. Will they get the help they need to pass their exams by Dec. 31, or will they become discouraged and give up on their dreams? We all have an obligation to spread the news about the changes and to support these adults in their education.

opinion_commentary

Don Block is executive director of Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council (dblock@gplc.org).


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