Paperless test also is harder

by: JILLIAN DALEY - Generation Y may struggle when the GED goes all-electronic, said Joe Urbina, Adult Basic Education faculty chairman at Portland Community College-Sylvania.Joe Urbina has experienced four generations of General Educational Development tests — but Urbina said he’s never weathered a change as big as the one on its way Jan. 2.

The GED tests are going to be completely electronic and more difficult, said Urbina, Adult Basic Education faculty chairman at Portland Community College-Sylvania. Some states already have initiated the change.

“Of the four tests I’ve seen, this is the hardest one,” said Urbina, a GED teacher for 32 years.

The American Council on Education, the GED’s longtime nonprofit administrator, partnered with Pearson, the largest education and testing company in the world, to make over the test.

The exam will more closely represent the Common Core State Standards, an almost nationwide change to school curriculum that also has led to different standardized tests for public school students. The GED testing service, in a written statement, said the overhaul is aimed at better focusing the test on college and career readiness for adult education as the U.S. Department of Education has recommended. Common Core State Standards, also intended to heighten college and career readiness, emphasize literacy in all subjects and focus more on informational, nonfiction texts.

The GED test also will increase in price in 2016.

Although most local students received a traditional diploma — with about 560 students graduating at Lakeridge and Lake Oswego high schools last school year — there are some local students who receive GED certificates. PCC’S Sylvania campus had 186 GED grads in 2012-13, the most of any GED program in the state, and, every year, about 10 students from Lake Oswego take the test, Urbina said.

Lake Oswego resident Ben Tyler passed the test this fall, among 82 Sylvania grads so far in 2013-14. Tyler attended Lakeridge High and, most recently, Lake Oswego High, but he took the GED because he said traditional school wasn’t a good fit for him.

“I feel really reassured because I thought I would have had to drop out of high school,” said Tyler, who will be 19 years old next month.

Now, he plans to take classes at PCC winter term and to join the Marines.

Tyler said the test was fairly easy, and he thinks it could use an upgrade.

“I imagine it’s going to just increase people’s general education,” he said.

Going digital

The current test can be done by paper or computer, but the fifth generation of the GED will be solely electronic. Test-takers will be furnished with a small dry-erase board and Expo markers rather than some scrap paper and pencils.

Urbina said some students may not be fast enough as typists and may lack the computer literacy to grasp something like copy and paste, although most Millennials are fluent with social media and digital music.

“There’s this assumption that this whole generation is very savvy electronically, but they’re not,” Urbina said. Having an all-electronic test is going to cause “some real problems” for them.

Overhauling the GED test

Released in 2002, the current GED test comprises exams on reading, writing, math, science and social studies. The incoming test is composed of exams on reasoning through language arts, mathematical reasoning, science and social studies.

The reading and writing exams will be replaced with the reasoning through language arts test. The latter has zero poetry, and 75 percent of its texts are informational nonfiction and workplace-oriented as opposed to the outgoing test; 75 percent of its texts are literary — drama, poetry, prose.

The new math exam will be more difficult, and that, along with a few other factors, likely will require PCC teachers to work with GED students for 20 to 22 weeks instead of about 16 weeks as they do now, Urbina said.

He said in 1988, when an essay was added to the GED test, there were many concerns that students wouldn’t have the language skills to write. But, the GED test is scored on a curve: A passing score on it is based on an average based on scores of sample groups of high school seniors.

Urbina said once word gets out that the test is more difficult, fewer students will take it at first, but, eventually, that will even out, too.

“That’s what’s always happened in the past, that it came back to as many students taking it as before or more,” he said.

Looking back

The U.S. Armed Forces Institute requested that the GED test be developed in 1942 because soldiers had joined the military before finishing high school, and the goal was to offer a test to establish their education level upon their return. In 1978, the test was revamped to focus on science and social studies, and a separate reading test was added. In 1988, an essay was added to the GED test. In 2002, critical thinking became a new emphasis.

Looking ahead

For the first time in 71 years, the test will be a for-profit venture.

The price for the test will jump from $60 to $120 but not until 2016, according to a press release from the GED test administrator.

Urbina is concerned that the rise in costs could affect testing services, although it’s still too early to be sure how. The cost increase and other changes to the test are not being well received in some areas. For the first time, other states, including Texas and New York, have ditched the test and are instituting their own high school equivalency tests.

Urbina said he doesn’t know what that means, but if “every state does whatever they want to: Babel. And, that worries me.”

The story of Babel is of a city where people tried to build a tower to heaven, and God punished them by making it so those people, who all had spoken one language, spoke many languages and could not communicate.

Jillian Daley can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 109. Follow her on Twitter, @JillianDaley.

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