Sweeping changes are in store for the GED test in January. The new version of the high school equivalency exam will be tougher and more expensive. It's set off a scramble this year for people to finish the current test, or be forced to start all over.
Math is the day’s lesson at this GED tutoring session at College Bound Dorchester. It’s also the last subject Howard Thompson, 24, needs to pass before earning his GED.
“It’s been a challenge. I gotta refresh my memory, stuff I forgot back, but they’ve been working with me and I’ve been proceeding pretty well,” Thompson said.
Thompson moved to Boston several months ago from Memphis. Back home he was kicked out of high school after 10th grade and failed at his early attempts to get his GED.
“I took classes for a while, took the test, but I never went back for my re-testing, because I didn’t take it serious. I was young and immature. But now I see the importance of it and I need it, if I wanna do better for myself. I need it,” he said.
Thompson is on track to finish at year’s end and he couldn't have picked a better time. That’s because -- come January -- a harder, more expensive GED test will replace the current one. For people like Fred McAfee, 53, who aren’t on target to finish, it will mean starting all over again.
“It’s something that when I started I wanted to do and it doesn’t matter what obstacles get in the way and how long it’s gonna take, it’s something I wanna do,” McAfee said.
McAfee’s biggest motivation is his three children. Another one is his job at the MBTA, where he’s been a bus driver for 27 years.
“When I started back then, you didn’t have to have a high school diploma, but now you do and so I cannot change positions without getting a GED or high school diploma, and so that’s one of my biggest goals is to get that and maybe I can change do something different in the company,” McAfee said.
McAfee is not alone, said Katie Ehresman, a coordinator for Boston Public Schools¹ Adult Education program. More students are showing up this year and dedicated to doing the work, but at the same time, some are angry, Ehresman said.
“The requirements where they work have been changing and they’re worried
they don’t have the confidence that they¹re going to be able to pass it, or they feel like they should have done this earlier and now the ground is shifting under their feet,” she said.
So why is the GED changing? About every 10 years, the GED is revised to keep pace with changing standards. This latest change is one of its most sweeping. The new test will be modeled after the Common Core, the new rigorous college and career readiness standards that are being adopted by 45 states. It wil also be more expensive to take; in Massachusetts the cost will go from $65 to $120.
Mark Culliton is the CEO of College Bound Dorchester, which provides educational services to underserved communities. Culliton embraces the Common Core approach, but is worried about the new test shifting from paper and pencil to computer.
“We’re gonna have to invest in additional computers for our students, additional, like, bandwidth for our students to be able to access computers, 20 or 30 at a time in this facility. So there’s a lot of costs associated with that,” Culliton said.
A recent Pew Research report found that 41 percent of adults without a high school degree don’t use the Internet or email compared with 4 percent of adults with a college degree. Katie Ehresman said the gap is more apparent with the older students she works with.
“Younger students are doing much better. They’re eager to do it on the computer, and it’s the older, less experienced with technology adults that have the fear, have the concerns,” she said.
Some states have responded by dropping the GED altogether. This year, two new high school equivalency tests entered the market. Both tout their lower cost and flexibility to choose between a paper test and a computer.
C.T. Turner, a spokesman for GED Testing Service, said the switch by some states has not been a cause for concern.
“I think they’re going to start seeing the efficacy of the GED testing program. They’re going to see the positive results coming back from adult learners and I think those two programs are going have to invest and they’re going to have to develop something like the GED testing program, or those states are gonna come back to the GED testing program."
Massachusetts has yet to reveal which test it wants for next year. The state tells WGBH News that a decision has been made, but contract negotiations with the test maker are ongoing. Mark Culliton says the long wait has forced many programs to put plans on hold.
“I think, universally, programs have been frustrated in how late in the game we’re getting news about what that test will be. So, optimally, I would have loved to flip the switch in January, but in July to have known what test it was gonna be."
Howard Thompson said he’ll be a role model for those who have to wait for that decision.
“I’m always here to help," he said. "I’m trying to be a story that they can look up to, you know. It’s never too late. I ain’t an old person, but it’s never too late"
Thompson plans to add to that story by going to college to study business.
Culliton and a student who turned to College Bound Dorchester to study for the GED discussed the coming changes to the test on Greater Boston: