SILICON VALLEY MERCURY NEWS. JULY 7, 2013. Across the state and nation, adults are racing to earn their GED high school equivalency certificates by December -- or start all over again with tougher, computerized tests next year.
The test is going through a major overhaul that happens about once a decade. The new tests will be so different that scores from the old 2002 version won't carry over. Students who fail to take and pass all five sections of the old test this year will have to start fresh with the new version.
Locally, registration for tests and preparation classes has also increased, adult education principals said.
In San Jose, the Metropolitan Adult Education program is offering the test more often and has added an extra prep class for GED -- short for General Education Development, said Principal Susan Glass. Classes vary in length from one program to another and are offered during the day and in the evenings in many areas. Glass said her school has created a new registration policy giving priority to those who have already passed some GED test sections to ensure that those who are furthest along have the best chance of finishing by the end of the year.
A GED rule that only allows people to take each section three times a year is adding to their stress, Glass said.
"If someone's taken the math test twice (and failed)," she said, "between now and December, they've only got one more shot."
Steven Silva, a 27-year-old Antioch resident, is one of dozens of students in the Pittsburg Adult School's GED preparation program studying to finish his tests before the deadline. Silva dropped out of high school to work in his family's restaurant business, then got a job helping to fix up foreclosed homes for sale.
But now he has a young daughter and wants to try to get a better job, such as a laborer in a refinery. To do that, he needs his GED, Silva said while taking a break from studying for a July test.
"I need it and it will look good on my record to at least have it, so if something else comes up I won't have to go back to school," he said. "I'm going to try as hard as I can."
The new tests will condense five exams into four and will include more difficult questions aligned with new Common Core Curriculum Standards that have been adopted in California and most other states. Instead of taking tests with pencil and paper, students will have to take the exams on computers. The good news is the new computerized tests will immediately tell students whether they passed or failed.
The new exams are designed to better prepare students for vocational training, college or careers by testing the skills employers are looking for now, said Armando Diaz, spokesman for the GED Testing Service.
For example, many multiple choice, fill-in-the-bubble questions will be replaced with in-depth questions that require test-takers to read longer passages and show understanding by defending opinions in short answers or essays.
"It's more critical thinking instead of plug and chug," Diaz said.
The pass rates for the current GED tests have ranged from 66 percent to nearly 73 percent each year between 2002 to 2011.
Reactions to the changes are mixed. Some adult education principals say it's important for the tests to keep up with current technology, while others fear the computer-only administration may hinder or deter people unfamiliar with computers from obtaining their high school equivalency certificates.
The California Department of Education is seeking approval from the state Board of Education to adopt an alternative high school equivalency test that could be taken either using pencil and paper or on a computer, said Denise Moore, education program consultant. However, the idea is still in its early stages and the alternative test might not be available until later next year, she said.
In the meantime, the state has seen a 9 percent spike in GED test-taking between the first five months of 2012 and the same period in 2013, Moore said. People who have already passed some of the tests and are cramming to finish by the end of the year account for the majority of the increase.
California's statistics mirror a national upsurge, which has grown from a steady 700,000 test-takers a year since 2002 to an estimated 1 million this year, said Diaz of the GED Testing Service.
Diaz also attributed the increase in part to an influx of new test-takers inspired by the federal deferred action program, which allows young adults who have come into the country illegally to stay temporarily if they are pursuing educational opportunities, such as a GED. Philip Yega, 57, of Antioch, said he passed three sections of the test a long time ago, then decided to take a break. But when he found out he had to complete the other two by the end of the year to get his certificate, he headed to the Pittsburg Adult School, so he can pursue his dream to become a Licensed Vocational Nurse.
"At my age, I just want to know that if I start something, I will be able to complete it," he said. "And I want to show my children that it's not too late to learn and they can do anything at any time."