- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A high school diploma is a must-have in today’s economy. While thousands of Southern Maryland teenagers earn their diplomas as high school seniors every year, dozens more men and women reach that goal by taking the General Education Development test. Starting with the new year, that test is up for substantial changes.
“I needed more schooling,” Shawnia Graham, 20, of Waldorf said. “It didn’t really work out in regular school.”
She said her mother pulled her out of high school at the beginning of her senior year. She started taking adult education classes soon after that at the Charles County Lifelong Learning Center to prepare to take the GED test.
Graham complimented her teachers at the learning center, saying they determine what each student needs and work with them on those challenges. They also help them deal with test anxiety, she said.
Graham plans to earn her diploma by passing the GED test, hopefully by next summer, and then start taking classes at the College of Southern Maryland. Her goal is to become a registered nurse.
Calvert and St. Mary’s each serve about 300 people every year in adult education classes, which include GED preparation, the external diploma program and courses for adults who primarily speak a language other than English. Charles County’s program serves about 1,500 adults every year.
The Charles program has grown substantially, including going from just a dozen employees a decade ago to more than 60 today, Elizabeth Sinnes, the adult education programs coordinator for Charles public schools, said. Charles County’s adult education site even offers free, on-site child care while adults are taking classes.
Nationally, the GED test has at least a 70 percent pass rate. In Maryland, the pass rate is closer to 59 percent.
The national statistic can be a bit misleading, however, as each state operates differently, with some requiring a person to pass a pre-test before they can take the actual GED test. Maryland does not require the pre-test.
However, starting in 2014 all states will be required to give the test on computers instead of by pencil and paper.
A change is coming
The drive behind the new test is to make sure adults who take and pass it are ready for careers or college, Armando Diaz, a spokesperson for the GED Testing Service, said.
In addition to the revamped test, the company now will offer test-takers help looking for a job or college after they pass the GED through online resources, Diaz said.
Patti Meszaros, an instructional specialist with St. Mary’s public schools, said the last paper-and-pencil test given locally was in November. A computerized version of the old test was offered this year at only a few locations in the state, and the new test will be available only at certified testing sites on computers starting next month.
While GED preparation classes are offered throughout Southern Maryland, beginning next year people will be limited as to where they take the actual GED test.
Charles’ Lifelong Learning Center is an official testing site, as is CSM’s La Plata campus. More sites could open, but they must go through a certification process with Pearson VUE, the test vendor.
Lynda McDonald, CSM’s testing center coordinator, said the community college is in the process of getting certified testing centers at its Leonardtown and Prince Frederick campuses, hopefully by July 2014.
The La Plata campus was one of just three in the state this year approved to give the computerized version of the GED. McDonald said there were more than 130 people who took the test since the testing site was set up in March.
“I think that will grow” once the paper-and-pencil tests are done away with completely, and the new computer tests are used exclusively, she said.
“Everybody’s starting from scratch,” Sinnes said.
The redesigned test focuses on the state’s new Common Core curriculum and standards, which aims to better align lessons from one state to the next in classrooms.
The new curriculum is touted as more rigorous, which means the corresponding GED test likely will be more difficult, too, Meszaros said.
“They want to keep pace with high schools and the Common Core” standards, Sinnes said.
The new test will be divided into four sections: language arts, math, science and social studies. The entire test takes seven hours and 15 minutes. Each section is 90 minutes, with an additional hour for language arts.
One improvement to the new GED is test-takers can take one section at a time, instead of having to sit for the entire test. They also can retake specific sections if they fail one part. “That, I think, is a bonus,” Meszaros said. They also only have to pay for the section of the test they retake, instead of paying the entire cost a second time.
The cost of the test is technically increasing to $120, but for now, at least, the state of Maryland plans to subsidize the difference to keep the price at $45.
Passing the test could be a bit more difficult. Instead of having an average score across all sections, now test-takers must make the pass rate on each section. Test-takers can earn the basic GED or, in the case of a high score, have results that indicate an honors score.
“If you score at this level, you are truly ready for career and college,” Meszaros said.
On the plus side, scores will be available to the test-taker as soon as they are done, with the exception of the writing section, which will be available soon after completing the test. And people can schedule to take the test within 24 hours, instead of one to two months ahead of time.
‘A different place now’
Lewis Messineo, 18, of Pomfret attended several high schools, including Great Mills and Patuxent, before dropping out.
“I moved around a lot,” he said, adding that he got into bad habits as a teenager.
After a year or so in the real world without a high school diploma, he realized an important lesson. “You need a diploma to get a job,” Messineo said.
So, about three months ago he went back to school, this time through Charles’ adult education program. He said he’s been taking classes and thinks he is close to being ready to take the GED.
“They’re in a different place now, and they realize it,” Paul Fancella, who oversees St. Mary’s public schools’ adult education programs, said of many young and old adults who decide to return to school for a high school diploma.
Depending on how far along in school the person made it, and how long he or she has been out of school, some aspiring GED candidates will be given a practice test right away, he said.
Others will start taking adult education classes. A person could take courses for just a few weeks or months or, in some cases, continue for one, two or more years before they are prepared to take the GED test. “It’s hard. It’s not an easy route” for everyone, Meszaros said.
While some might find school work too hard, many drop out of high school because they are bored, fall into bad habits that might include drugs and alcohol or just don’t fit in socially, Fancella said. “There’s a lot of reasons why kids drop out of high school. It’s not just the academics,” he said.
Those who return to earn their GED do so for varied reasons, too. Some are recent high school dropouts, still in their teens, who planned to get their GED all along. Others, such as Messineo, might have been working but hit a wall in terms of promotion opportunities or earning potential.
Still others go back to school so they can keep up with their own children’s schoolwork or to set a good example about the importance of education. Fancella said a mother and daughter recently earned their diplomas through the GED program in St. Mary’s together.
Jose Hernandez of Waldorf said he has been taking classes at the Charles adult education program “for many years.” When he first came to America from El Salvador he did not speak any English. “I’m a very lucky guy. They treat me like family,” Hernandez said.
Now, as a citizen who has lived and worked here for many years, Hernandez, 47, has a new goal.
“Sometimes you have to know how to help them,” he said of his two sons. He is learning academic skills not just for himself, but so he can keep up with and assist his sons, who are in elementary and middle school.
Sinnes said even though many of the adults come from difficult backgrounds, there are rarely any behavioral issues at the adult education center. People want to be there on their own accord, she said, and have come to realize the value of a high school diploma.
A growing program
The adult education programs rely mostly on state and federal grants. The program in St. Mary’s runs slightly more than $260,000, Calvert’s program is budgeted at about $317,000, and Charles’ program costs almost $600,000. Those do not include in-kind costs such as facilities and administration provided by local school systems’ operating and capital budgets.
St. Mary’s offers classes at several locations, including Mechanicsville and Green Holly elementary schools, Great Mills High School and the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center in Leonardtown.
Adult education classes in Calvert are offered at the Hunting Creek Annex in Huntingtown, the Prince Frederick social services building, Appeal Elementary School and Patuxent High School. All of Charles County’s adult education classes are held at the school system’s Lifelong Learning Center in Waldorf.
While the adult education instructors do not need to have teacher certifications required of regular public school teachers, they do receive ongoing training, testing coordinators said.
Not all states give a real, certified high school diploma for passing the GED. In fact, Maryland is one of only a small handful that does, Meszaros said.
It is, by all measures, a “real” high school diploma. The only difference is instead of having a specific high school name emblazoned, it says it is issued by the Maryland State Department of Education. “That’s a huge benefit. It’s still a diploma through examination,” Sinnes said.
Nearly all colleges in the United States will accept a diploma earned through the GED test, even Harvard University, she said.
Edie McGreevy, Calvert public schools’ adult education coordinator, said each county offers the external diploma program in addition to a traditional GED prep class. “The end product is also a high school diploma,” McGreevy said.
The external diploma program culminates in the creation of a portfolio so adults can demonstrate their knowledge of the four core subjects, in part through skills they learned in life. It sometimes is a better alternative for older adults who might be uncomfortable taking tests.
It usually takes a solid six months or longer of preparation classes before a person is ready to complete the program, McGreevy said. “Most people seem to want or need some remediation and take one of the classes,” she said.
Many of the adult students are surprised at how much work is involved in preparing for the test. “We’ve had students say, “If I knew it was this hard, I would have stayed in school,’” Meszaros said.
It’s not that easy: Sample questions from the new GED
1. An office uses paper drinking cups in the shape of a cone, with dimensions shown. To the nearest tenth of a cubic inch, what is the volume of each drinking cup? a. 2.5 b. 7.9 c. 23.7 d. 31.7 Answer: b
2. What is the value of 36x - 8y2 when x = 3 and y = -6 a. -288 b. -180 c. 1,200 d. 3,600 Answer: b
1. A farmer purchased 30 acres of farmland. The farmer calculated that the average topsoil thickness on the farmland is about 20 centimeters. The farmer wants to maintain the thickness of the soil on this farmland by reducing erosion. The farmer plans to test the effectiveness of two different methods for reducing soil erosion.
Method 1: No-till (planting crops without plowing the soil)
Method 2: Winter cover crop (growing plants during the winter that are plowed into the soil in spring)
The farmer hypothesizes that using either method will reduce erosion compared to using traditional farming methods (plowing or no cover crop). Design a controlled experiment that the farmer can use to test this hypothesis. Include descriptions of data collection and how the farmer will determine whether his hypothesis is correct.
2. The general chemical equation for cellular respiration is: C₆H₁₂O₆ + 6O₂ → 6H₂O + 6CO₂ + energy Which statement describes the process in the equation? a. Glucose and oxygen combine to produce energy. b. Glucose and oxygen combine to produce water and carbon dioxide. c. Glucose is broken down in the presence of oxygen to release energy. d. Glucose is broken down into water and carbon dioxide to store energy.
After reading an excerpt from the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company et al. v. Sawyer (1952), the test-taker is asked: Based on this excerpt, what did the court want to prevent? a. judicial interference with legislative powers b. executive interference with legislative powers c. congressional interference with judicial powers d. congressional interference with executive powers Answer: b
After reading an excerpt from “Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery, the test-taker is asked: Drag and drop each word that describes Anne into the character web from the following choices: dramatic, practical, satisfied, enthusiastic and disappointed. Answer: dramatic, enthusiastic, disappointed