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New GED platform has a few glitches

January 22, 2014 Updated: January 22, 2014 at 10:20 am

True or false: You don't need a pencil and paper to take the GED.

True. The GED has joined the digital age.

And like other new computer platforms, it's had a few glitches.

The General Educational Development, more commonly known as the General Equivalency Diploma or GED, introduced a host of updated features with the new year.

But test results, promised within three to four hours, are instead taking three to four days, said Peggy Hawke, who coordinates the testing center at Pikes Peak Community College.

"The previous test spit out the results immediately following, and this new one doesn't," she said.

Results have been delayed after the Jan. 2 launch because tests are being scored on the computer and by hand, said Armando Diaz, spokesman for the GED Testing Service. The business is a joint project of the nonprofit American Council on Education and a for-profit company, Pearson.

"We're doing the human scoring to ensure the automated scoring system is right," Diaz said. "We hope to have it fully automated within the next couple of weeks."

When that happens, students will receive their scores the same day they take the test.

Colorado was one of several states to pilot computerized test-taking of the GED, starting last May. Hawke said students received instant, unofficial results at the center, and she liked being able to discuss options after they found out if they passed.

Diaz said the new online system notifies students of their scores on the company's web portal, which can be accessed from a smartphone or computer.

"They can then print out or show their scores to the instructor and discuss it with them," he said.

The biggest change is that the entire seven-hour exam now must be taken online.

It's not as grueling as it sounds. As in the past, students can do the whole test in one sitting, or schedule separate exam sessions for the four sections.

Another significant difference: Questions are not the same as the previous rendition, which came out in 2002 and was based on high school curriculum from the year 2000.

The content now aligns to the Common Core State Standards that many, including Colorado, have adopted, as well as national college- and career-readiness standards for adult education.

"It's on par to what's being taught in traditional high school settings and makes sure we're measuring the right skills to get that job or go to vocational school or college," Diaz said. "We're trying to make sure students are prepared to compete in today's economy."

With scoring also indicating career- or college-readiness, Hawke said she's concerned that some students who pass the GED but are not identified as being prepared for the next step will get discouraged.

Diaz said the intent of the new tiered scores is not to dishearten students but suggest areas they need to work on to prepare for the workplace or higher education.

"We indicate possible weaknesses and give them recommendations," he said.

The previous test had five sections that have been condensed to four: math, science, social studies and reasoning through language arts. Essays are a part of each, except math.

Students still have to go to a designated testing center to take the exam. There are three in the Colorado Springs area. But the expanded website allows students to find local preparation programs, schedule a test, do an official practice test, and obtain career and college assistance.

Fearing the revised GED would be harder, students flocked to testing centers in the months leading up to the switch, Hawke said.

"We were testing like crazy right up until we closed for the winter break," she said. "We added evening and Saturday testing times. We had some beautiful successes - people who had been trying very hard to pass it."

More than a year ago, the center started sending out notices, alerting people who had started the test but didn't finish all the sections that the format was going to change.

The new GED, Diaz says, is not harder. It just tests different knowledge - "higher-level thinking skills that employers and colleges told us students need to succeed in today's marketplace."

The system is more flexible now, offering the opportunity to test on different days, compared with once a month before.

The cost in Colorado is $150 for all four sections. The GED Testing Service sells the tests for $120, Diaz said, and states can increase or decrease the amount charged to students. For example, in Maryland, the cost is just $40 for the entire test because of a state supplement, he said. The GED Testing Service also allows two free retakes, although states may choose to charge for those as well.

About 700,000 people take the GED every year, Diaz said. Last year, Hawke said students at the PPCC testing center ranged from 17-year-old dropouts to a 73-year-old grandmother who wanted her GED "just to say she finally got her high school diploma."

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