Crowds pack testing center to get GED before exam changes

Benjamin S. Brasch
Erik Hill

Iriel Washington needed to pass four tests in the last two days of 2013. She still doesn't know if her months of studying were enough.

After spending four years in and out of federal prison, Washington, 27, has decided to get her high school general equivalency degree, or GED. She won't know the results of her math, science, language and essay exams for a few days.

Hundreds of people such as Washington rotated through the classrooms of Nine Star, a center that offers adult education classes, throughout December, all hoping to get their GEDs.

Starting Thursday, those who take the GED test will have to pay more for a harder computer-based exam that requires more writing and has an increased focus on math and science.

"For someone who's been out of school a while, there's going to be a little more work involved," said Kate Lawton, assistant director who oversees GED testing at Nine Star.

The last round of testing with the old exam was on Tuesday.

Nine Star, 730 I St., started to see the flood of people wanting to take GED exams in late November, she said.

Before November, the center was holding six mostly-attended testing sessions a week, but for the past month, there have been 17 sessions of 20 people per week, she said.

Lawton said she has had to hire four more people to run tests. She trained the public relations person to administer exams.

Through December, about 750 tests have been taken at Nine Star, she said.

In December 2012, 42 people earned their GED, she said. In December 2013, 225 people have graduated with their GED, she said.

Part of the reason for the rush: If someone hadn't passed all five sections of the old exam by Dec. 31, they'll have to take them all over again in the new, more difficult, format.

Tuesday was the last day the testing center will administer the GED at all, she said. After the new year, all exams will be given at University of Alaska Anchorage.

The university's testing center will now handle all GED testing in Anchorage after being certified by the GED Testing Service, according to a UAA statement dated in September.

She said UAA earned the certification because it has a larger computer lab.

When Nine Star was still allowed to give the GED, people would have to take an assessment before they took the actual exam.

Lawton said that assessment made a lot of people realize that they need help.

Even though UAA will recommend that people go to Nine Star for classes before taking the exam, many probably won't, she said.

Before the change, it cost $25 to take all five sections at Nine Star, but it will cost $120 to take all four sections of the new exam, she said.

Another difference is that people can now retake each section seven times in a year as compared to three, Lawton said.

The increased limit makes people more likely to keep paying the $30 to take each section of the exam instead of fixing the root problem, she said.

The new GED exam has taken away the writing section and incorporated it into other sections, so instead of test-takers writing from a prompt, they'll be writing about science or social studies, according to the GED website.

The last time the GED was updated was in 2002, according to the website, and in an effort to modernize the exam, people will now take the test on a computer.

Many instructors thought it would be nearly impossible for people to pass with a new writing section, but applicants rose to the challenge, Lawton said.

"Change is maybe scary for everybody, but change is a good thing," she said.

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