The questions are harder, the test is more expensive and will require a computer to complete, but Keith Snead knows getting his General Educational Development credential, more commonly known as a GED, is the only way to a better life.
“I’m at the age where I need to make a change, and I really want to take up a new trade,” said Snead, a 38-year-old landscaper from St. Petersburg.
“I went up to the 11th grade at Boca Ciega High School, and then I decided I was bad and dropped out. It took me years to get the mind to go back, and I started about three years ago and gave up; but I’ve been working on this for a month, and I’m finally ready to change my life.”
In August, Snead and about 4,000 other GED hopefuls in Pinellas County will begin the testing process at Pinellas Technical Education Centers’ new GED testing rooms in Clearwater and St. Petersburg.
Both rooms are under construction, and the project will cost the school district more than $200,000. The Clearwater testing center will have 35 computers, and the St. Petersburg center will have 60 or 70, with room for as many as 90.
Meanwhile, 40 GED testing centers throughout the county will close by the end of the year because of changes requiring students to take the test on computers.
Spaces to take the five-part test are filling up two weeks in advance, said Laura Sargent, the school district’s supervisor of adult, community and workforce education.
“In Pinellas County alone there are thousands of people that started the GED but never finished,” Sargent said. “Right now we’re testing as much as we possibly can, about four nights every week, with a couple hundred students.”
The national GED Testing Service requires students to take the test on computers as of January, and Pinellas County will stop testing new GED candidates by Nov. 1 to allow current students to finish. Those taking the test must pass it before the end of the year or else start over, losing all their previous scores.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re cutting test sites because when you can take the test to the people it’s a little easier to get them to take it,” said Dave Barnes, the school district’s executive director of career technical and adult education.
“But it’s also an opportunity for us to pull in literally thousands of our residents into our technical centers who probably have never been there before.”
District officials hope the exposure will help increase adult enrollment in the education center’s career courses by at least 10 percent next year. Enrollment has been stagnant for five years at about 12,000. Pinellas County Schools tests and graduates about 2,100 students each year.
“A majority of the students that come through PTEC only have their high school diploma or a GED,” said center administrator Arlene Corbin. “I don’t think we have so many people with their GED’s because less people graduate and need it; it’s just that we have very active adult education in the county, with a lot of local schools offering adult education or GED help, and we try to make it accessible.”
Pinellas County also tests a large number of inmates for the GED diploma, Barnes said. District personnel hold GED classes and testing for inmates at the Pinellas County Jail, but setting up a computer testing lab to comply with the changes will be “complicated” because of the possibility of outside access for inmates, he said. The jail is working with the school district to find a way to secure the computers and ensure inmates can get their GED’s, Barnes said.
The GED test is becoming harder because of a national school curriculum called the Common Core Standards that will be adopted over the next two years. The education center is working on a new curriculum for its GED help classes that not only “step up the rigor” in math, social studies, science and English, but also will teach keyboarding and basic word-processing skills, Sargent said.
What really worries Snead, though, is the cost, which is increasing from $70 to $130, or $26 per section.
“I hear people all the time in class upset about having to pay like 30 bucks for a class or a test,” Snead said. “If they don’t have it, they won’t go. It’s going to be a problem.”