Every year hundreds of job hunters come into Summit County’s Project Learn saying they need a high school diploma immediately and want to take the GED test.
Then comes the reality check.
According to Rick McIntosh, Project Learn’s director, they probably aren’t ready and are likely to fail. Then he offers to show them how to succeed.
His suggestion: Take a practice test to find how much they really know and then participate in Project Learn’s education programs for months or even years to sharpen skills.
The urgency to pass is increasing this year. On Jan 2, all of Ohio’s GED testing will be online, more expensive and a lot tougher to pass. And for those who took the paper test and only passed some of the four sections, they must finish by the end of the year or their progress will be lost.
Ohio’s paper GED test costs $40 now but will go up to $120 in January. An $80 subsidy will be available from the state for some first-time takers, and local charities might help with the remaining $40.
McIntosh says about half of the Summit County people who take the test pass it. That means many will be paying if they want to take it again, and $120 can take a huge chunk out a the paycheck of someone making minimum wage. Most of Project Learn’s students are involved with some kind of public assistance.
“They need the GED credential today so they can keep working or get that job, and the reality is that most of them will not get that GED tomorrow,” McIntosh said.
He has found that a majority do not know they read at an eighth-grade level.
“They overestimate skills, they really overestimate their skills,” he said. “Most of them are shocked where they are at.”
It creates a crisis of confidence in people who come from an environment where education was never a priority. In addition to academic skills, they need emotional support, he said.
“The folks that come to us, by and large, did not have positive school experiences. Many times they don’t feel that education is the pathway to success,” he said.
And those who might know something about the GED from years ago also are in for a surprise. It’s a lot tougher now.
Math is the section that is flunked most often. Now it includes more algebra, critical thinking, formulas and story problems, and test takers will need to know what pi is. A sample test asks: “To rent a ball field for a game costs a $300 basic fee plus a $2 fee per person. If x persons attend the game, which equation can be used to find T, the total cost of renting the ball field.” It then presents five choices. (Answer: T = 2x + 300)
The language section expects the test taker to carefully read a passage and draw conclusions.
A link to additional sample questions will accompany this story on Ohio.com, and complete sample tests are available from Project Learn.
The eight-hour test also requires typing proficiency at about 25 to 30 words per minute. McIntosh worries that some people who now only type with their thumbs on tiny cellphones might have lost their keyboard skills.
Making the test tougher is part of educators’ push to make the diploma respected by people who do the hiring.
“One of the reasons the GED is increasing its rigor is because we want the GED to remain a viable credential for folks,” he said.
Project Learn also attracts people with high school diplomas who need to sharpen their skills to pass civil service and other tests.
The organization helps about 500 people from other countries every year who might not even know English.
CT Turner, director of public affairs for GED Testing Service, says the national pass rate is higher than Project Learn’s, 72 percent for the paper test and 88 percent for the more than 100,000 who have taken the computer test elsewhere in the country.
Some states require a sample test, which McIntosh also said is a key to passing on the first try because it directs students to work on their weaknesses.
Online test takers also take less time, finishing in about 5½ hours, Turner said.
Overall, only about 20 percent of those who fail ever come back to take the test again.
The online test requires special rooms, partitions between the computers and proctors to prevent cheating. Coats, cellphones and even wallets are banned. The online program has calculators that pop up for students to use.
Participants get instant results and links to where they can find help if they failed a section.
Turner said his organization, which oversees GED tests throughout the country, is working with Pearson Vue, the private company that administers the online tests, to improve the process and increase the number of places where it can be taken.
“This needs to be about the test taker and we need convenient places to take the test,” he said.
For those who do well, the GED might not be the end of their academics.
“Just like a high school diploma, we know the GED by itself is not enough for the future that we need folks to go on and get associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees,” McIntosh said.
“The GED is not a terminal credential. It’s a credential that will allow one of our local business to hire you with the expectation that further education is always needed. But what you have managed to do is get yourself in an education framework.”
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or email@example.com. Follow Scott on Twitter at Davescottofakro.