GED changes

Zak Heward, 17, studies during his GED class Wednesday at Albany Options School. Heward is determined to finish his GED by December so he won’t have to start over when the program changes this January. (Mark Ylen/Democrat-Herald)

Three tests down. Two to go. Nine weeks left.

Zak Heward is pretty confident he’ll get his General Education Development certificate before the current version expires this year — because if he doesn’t, he’ll have to start again.

The 17-year-old is taking his GED prep class at Albany Options School and is determined to finish by Dec. 20, the last day of school before winter break.

“It’s kinda crunch time, you know?” he said. “You’ve got to work hard and get it done, or you’ve got to start all over.”

Considered the equivalent of a high school diploma, a GED signifies the recipient has passed a series of tests designed to measure basic high-school-level academic skills.

The program has been around since 1942 and has undergone several test revisions over the years. In 2011, the tests became strictly computer-based, although between now and January, people who started with the paper-pencil tests can finish with them as well.

The newest change kicks in this January, when the GED Testing Service rolls out updated assessments. The material is to be aligned with the Common Core State Standards that have been adopted for high schools across most of the nation.

As such, the tests are expected to be more complex and more in-depth. They’ll also offer, for the first time, an “honors” level for each test that is meant to better prepare students for college credit classes.

The new round of GED tests will also be a little more costly: $38 per test versus the $31 currently charged (costs for AOS students are covered by the district office). However, the total number of tests will be reduced from five to four.

The current tests cover reading, science, social studies, math and writing. The new tests will cover just the first four subjects, with writing incorporated into the reading portion.

The kicker is the January “reset” button, however. Anyone who doesn’t finish the GED process before January has to start from square one, with all new tests, all new fees and all computerized.

That’s expected to cause a surge in demand this fall at Oregon’s 44 GED testing centers, said Marque Haeg, Oregon’s GED administrator.

Since 2000, between 8,000 and 10,000 Oregonians have receive a GED credential each year, Haeg said. The exception was in 2001, just before the last time assessments went through a major revision. That year, nearly 14,000 residents completed a GED — and most of them took their tests in October, November and December.

If that year is any indication, he said, “I’m fully expecting the centers to be inundated.” Already, he added, Mount Hood Community College has a three-week waiting list.

At Linn-Benton Community College, Division Dean Sally Moore said about 500 students usually go through the college’s GED program each year. She said she didn’t have exact numbers, but she did see a spike in demand for tests this past spring, prompting the college to expand its computer testing terminals from two to six.

Dan Knight, principal of Albany Options School, asked Greater Albany Public Schools to become an official GED testing site this past spring, just for its own students, both because of the shift from paper and pencil tests and the high demand at LBCC to finish with the current program.

At that time, the community college had just the two computer sites for the official tests, and AOS students were having to compete with some 400 LB students for their use, he said. “We were cut in half on the number of students we got through.”

Becoming a secure testing site involved creating a computer area in a private room, hiring a testing coordinator, setting up a monitoring system and, this fall, adding a second preparatory class.

Knight started with two official testing computers open two hours per day. But as news of the coming change began circulating, GED referrals have risen from South Albany and West Albany high schools, prompting him to increase the hours to six per day.

Fifteen students started the year in the GED program at AOS, Knight said. Two have already finished and six more have joined since then.

It’s important to keep the certificate available to them, he said. “Sometimes, students get themselves in a bind, credit-wise. They’re plenty smart enough to come in and do it, but for whatever reason, they’ve gotten themselves behind. This is an opportunity for them.”

Heward said that’s essentially what happened to him. By the end of his junior year, the former Salem resident had earned just six high school credits.

“I kind of made some bad choices my sophomore and junior year, and kind of just screwed my whole high school career up,” he said. “The only option for me was to get my GED.”

Without the certificate, Heward said, he won’t have a shot at college, where he hopes to study psychology and eventually work as a counselor.

“School’s hard, but it’s worth it,” he said. “I wish I’d figured that out a little sooner.”

Orientation Sessions

Students working on getting their General Education Development certificate need to pass all five tests by December or face having to start over.

The current version of the GED tests in reading, science, social studies, math and writing will expire at the end of this year, and will be replaced Jan. 2 with a new test.

Linn-Benton Community College offers GED classes to help prepare to take the tests. Participants must attend a free two-session orientation before registering for classes.

Orientation sessions will be offered the week of Oct. 28, and GED classes will begin the week of Nov. 4. A $30 enrollment fee is due at registration.

Orientation and classes are available at the LBCC Albany campus, the LBCC Benton Center in Corvallis, and the LBCC Lebanon and Sweet Home centers. Dates and times vary.

Those who are ready to take the GED tests should contact the LBCC Student Assessment Center at 541-917-4781.

For more information on classes, call LBCC Adult Basic Education/General Education Development at 541-917-4710.

Volunteers at Helping Hands Homeless Shelter, 1989 Santiam Highway S.E. in Albany, also stand ready to help, said tutor Pat Loy.

“The group that’s most important to reach at this point is the ones who have already taken one test. That’s what we’re really pushing for right now,” she said. “There aren’t that many weeks left, but it’s still there.”

Loy is at the shelter from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Other arrangements may be possible by calling the shelter at 541-926-4036.

More volunteer tutors also are being sought, Loy said. Information is available through the shelter.

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Jennifer Moody is the education reporter for the Democrat-Herald. She can be reached at 541-812-6113 or jennifer.moody@lee.net.