Naked City

GED-ding Mighty Crowded

High schoolers who plan to drop out, get their Route 66 kicks, and take the General Equivalency Diploma (GED) later on in life better think twice, educators say. Starting in January, the American Center for Education will begin administering a new, rewritten, and significantly harder version of the GED, the only exam that confers high school-graduate status. Based on trial exams administered to high school seniors, the 2002 exam has been written so that a predicted 40% of high school seniors fail it -- up from the 33% standard in place since 1988. Test-takers who haven't completed the GED's four parts (which can be taken at different times) by Dec. 20 will have their scores dropped.

Folks anxious to complete their GEDs or evade the harder test have mobbed the country's testing centers. Walter Tillman, state administrator of the GED program for the Texas Education Association's Continuing Education Division, says centers in the Lubbock and Galveston areas are full -- even with expanded hours. "I'm sure there are some individuals experiencing trouble finding a place," he said.

Tillman expects the changes will adversely impact older test-takers whose high school education predates the educational trends that the new GED follows. New GED material includes harder math questions (though calculators will be allowed), more "business-related texts" such as office memos, job applications, and advertising fliers in the test's reading section, and more graphics. All changes are intended to mirror trends in high school education initiated in the past 12 years, says Lyn Schaefer of the ACE's Dept. of Continuing Education and Learning Credentials, which develops an overseas GED. "We have to reflect what the high schools are teaching and testing."

Texas Association of Literacy and Adult Education President Nancy Bentley-Dunlap says the changes could also hurt test-takers with learning disabilities. But she also identifies some pluses. "Right now, I can tell a student, if they can read, they can answer the questions," she said. Under the new GED, "they're going to have to use some analysis, some higher-order thinking skills. We're not just teaching the test any more. A lot of educators are excited about it."

For students who, for whatever reason, fail to earn their diploma in high school, Bentley-Dunlap warns, "it's going to be doubly hard for them now. We're telling people not to freak out, but I don't think there'll be as many students getting the GED in the spring."

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