CLEARWATER — When Florida decided to adopt the Common Core education requirements, which the state renamed Florida Standards, it not only increased the demands on grade school students, but it upped the challenge for GED students, as well.
Pinellas County has raised the score for a passing grade on the GED tests for 16- and 17-year-olds who are allowed to take the exam with written permission from their parents. Requirements for the national GED test are set by the Department of Education and the national GED Testing Service, but they only apply to students 18 and older.
School board members plan to hold a public forum on several changes outlined in Florida statutes for the GED exam.
“The GED 2014 is a completely different test, much more rigorous,” said Dave Barnes, the Pinellas County school district’s executive director of career technical and adult education. “We talked with administrators, teachers, staff and even some students and did a thorough vetting of what point an underaged tester would stand a fair chance of sitting for and passing the computer-based GED test.”
The paper-and-pencil GED test was upgraded in January to a computer-based test. Exams were reduced from five sections to four, and passing requirements were changed from an overall score of 500 to 600 and at least 150 out of 200 on each of the four parts. Pinellas 16- and 17-year-olds also must pass with a pretest score of 155 on each of the sections, Barnes said.
In addition to learning keyboarding and basic word-processing skills to prepare test-takers for the new exam, GED hopefuls now have to take more difficult preparatory classes in math, social studies, science and English that align with the lessons taught in area high schools.
The new format also has increased the cost of the test from $70 to $128, or $32 per section. While the end of 2013 saw huge spikes in the number test-takers before the changes took place, the numbers are tapering off, said Debra Colson, director of the Pinellas Technical Education Centers’ new GED testing rooms.
“I think people are still motivated, but there is somewhat of a fear out there because rumor is that it’s harder, and the change of cost, especially here in St. Petersburg, is an issue,” Colson said. “We field a lot of phone calls asking about getting financial aid for the test, but we don’t have anything really in place yet.”
For now, the center is encouraging people with financial concerns to sign up for one test at a time, and a few private organizations offer financial assistance, Colson said.
Pinellas stopped accepting new GED candidates on Nov. 1 to allow students to finish the process before the end of the year. The deadline brought about 4,000 GED hopefuls to the PTEC’s new facilities in Clearwater and St. Petersburg, which replace about 40 testing centers sprinkled throughout the area.
The rooms cost the school district more than $200,000, with 28 computers in the Clearwater testing center and 60 in the St. Petersburg center. They reached full capacity and were testing about 130 students a day in December, but they now test about 25 students a day as they get through the new GED curriculum, Colson said.
While some students may be deterred, the computerized testing actually “makes things run smoother, candidates are getting results within 24 hours in most places, the transcript process is easier and there are choices about whether they want a paper diploma or an online certification,” Colson said.
With thousands more testers filtering through PTEC, officials hope adult enrollment in career courses will increase by at least 10 percent this year. Enrollment at the two PTEC career schools, where a majority of students have high school diplomas or GEDs, has been stagnant for five years at about 12,000, center administrator Arlene Corbin said.
“We’re setting up a career center in the room to canvass our candidates so when they’re done with their test we can talk with them about their plans now that they have their GED,” Colson said.