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Students urged to finish GED tests before 2014 overhaul

SALISBURY — Salisbury resident Mary Fontz is well on her way to getting her GED, but time is running out.
Fontz, who wants to become a criminal investigator, has been taking GED preparation classes at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College for about a year.
She said has already passed the social studies and reading sections, and she still has three more to go to earn the high school equivalency credential.
“In high school I couldn’t focus. There was too much distraction. But I came here and found this opportunity,” she said.
Fontz said she’s hopeful that she can finish her remaining test sections – writing, social studies and math — before the end of the year.
If she doesn’t, she’ll have to start over, along with anyone else who hasn’t completed the battery of exams.
The GED Testing Service plans to introduce a new version of the nationwide test on Jan. 1, 2014.
The current test was last updated in 2002 and has five sections: reading, writing, math, science and social studies. Starting next year, it will have four: reasoning through language arts, mathematical reasoning, science and social studies.
Instead of a stand-alone essay section, the new test will feature writing assignments within the language arts and social studies sections.
According to the GED Testing Service, more than a million Americans have started the current GED test but have not passed all five sections.
They have until the end of 2013 to complete it, or they will need to start over in 2014 with the new test.
Last year, nearly 800,000 adults sat for the GED test, which is widely accepted by colleges and employers as an equivalent to a high school diploma. The revisions were spearheaded by the American Council on Education, creator of the GED, in conjunction with private test-maker Pearson. The two companies have now merged.
“We’re trying to get the word out to the community to finish up,” said Gary Connor, director of the GED and Adult Basic Education programs at Rowan-Cabarrus. “And just because they’ve ‘stopped out’ doesn’t mean they can’t continue.”
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Rowan-Cabarrus Community College serves as an official GED testing center, and it also offers free GED preparation classes for adults.
College officials say it’s possible, but not recommended, to take the test without going through a class. In total, the five sections in the current paper-based test take about seven hours to complete.
The new GED test will be electronic, so students will need to be comfortable with using a computer to answer questions.
“We’re beginning now to have all of the students doing writing samples, as much as we can get them to, on the computer,” Connor said.
He said college officials have been told there may be a cost of $24 per section, making the cost of all four new sections about $100.
Other reported figures for the total price tag are as high as $120. Currently, North Carolina students pay just $25 to take the whole test.
Whatever the final number, “the cost is going to go up substantially,” Connor said.
He said there may be additional state or federal subsidies that bring down the price for students, but “we’re going forward on the basis that there will be no assistance.”
Brandon Hunter, of Salisbury, said he’s trying to finish up by the end of 2013 to avoid the new test.
“I’m good with computers, but I don’t want to pay more money,” he said.
He said he dropped out of high school because he “was a troubled teen looking for a better life.”
Now 26, Hunter is studying to earn his GED while working at McDonald’s to provide for his 1-year-old son. He wants to go to college to become an electrician and work for a company like Duke Energy.
“You need it (a high school education) to be successful in this world,” he said.
Darius Hamilton, also of Salisbury, said the changes to the GED might be for the better, but he’s still trying to finish up before they happen.
“Back in the day, I looked more toward work, and I wanted to get a job,” he said. “I came to realize that I wasn’t going to get one until I get this over with.”
Hamilton, 32, said he didn’t finish high school because he made the wrong decisions and was “hanging with the wrong people.
He now has two children who are 7 and 8 years old, and he wants to go to school to become a carpenter. He’s taking regular classes at Rowan-Cabarrus to work toward his GED.
“I appreciate RCCC and what they’re doing,” Hamilton said. “They’ve got good stuff here for us, and it’s free.”
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Connor said he hasn’t seen a sense of urgency from GED seekers just yet. Their two most common questions are still “how much will it cost?” and “how long will it take?”
There’s no way to tell how much time any given student will need to finish the test, Connor said.
“That’s like asking me how long it would take you to drive to Chicago,” he said. “I don’t know that unless I know where you’re coming from and how fast you’re going.”
To help get a sense of where a student is coming from, the college offers the Test for Adult Basic Education, or TABE, during required orientation sessions. That way, people seeking a GED will know which areas of study they need to focus on most.
How fast the students go depends largely on how frequently they attend classes, he said.
Connor said the shortest time he’s seen someone take to finish the test is about three weeks. Typically, it will take a student several weeks or months to work through the process.
That still leaves plenty of time for most people to get their tests out of the way this year, Connor said, and the college is urging them to do just that.
The redesigned test will follow the new common core curricula adopted by most states, including North Carolina, to increase college and career readiness.
Though the common core curriculum is new to the schools, Connor said he doesn’t see any evidence that older students would have a harder time understanding it. In fact, he said, adults with more life experience often have a better understanding of certain concepts like interest rates or car payments.
“They tend to pick up the subject matter quicker,” he said. “They’ve applied it. They’ve lived it.”
For more information about the GED program at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, call 704-216-7227 or visit www.rccc.edu.

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