COA Prepares for Big Ceremony
“We normally have a GED graduation in May,” said Erle Solesbee, chief GED examiner at COA. “But we had so many graduates in October, November and December that we wanted to go ahead and do a graduation now.”
On January 1, states nationwide began a rollout of a new GED test. No longer a paper-and-pencil exam, as it has been since it began in 1942, the new high school equivalency exam is a computer-based test much more rigorous than its predecessors.
With such drastic changes looming, the new exam requirements inspired a mass of test-takers at COA to complete their high school degrees by December, just before the new rules took effect.
Seven months ago, Solesbee said COA began seeing a surplus of those seeking to earn their GEDs as these students learned about the new GED exam. The school wasn’t alone in seeing a rise in the number of test-takers. The GED testing service estimates that nationwide in 2013, there was an increase of about 25 percent from the previous year.
“Once they redo the test, your old scores are no longer valid,” said Solesbee. “You have to start over. So anytime there are GED changes, there’s always a push to get people in who haven’t completed.”
Solesbee said the American Council on Education, the non-profit organization that oversees the GED, revamps the high school equivalency test about every 12 years.
“It’s supposed to get much harder,” said Lindsey Dail, who recently completed her GED at COA in December. Dail had already completed the writing test eight years ago, just one of the previously required five tests necessary to earn her GED, but she still needed to pass the social studies, science, reading and math portions.
“I started in 2005 and I ended up getting pregnant with my daughter and had to work,” said Dail, 31, explaining her earlier attempts to earn her GED.
Since having her daughter, Dail never revisited the idea of pursuing her high school diploma. She had a good job at a local hardware store until about six months ago when she took at new job at an insurance agency in Corolla.
“My boss actually pushed me to get my GED,” Dail said. “She definitely boosted me up. If it wasn’t for her, I would probably still be a non-graduate.”
The added incentive, Dail said, is a promotion. Her boss wants Dail to become an insurance agent, which requires a GED. Dail completed her GED prep classes online, through the Manteo campus. She met with her advisor weekly to make sure she was logging in the minimum of six hours of study required.
Typically, Dail said, she studied more than six hours a week, and it paid off.
In November and December, Dail passed all her remaining exams except math, which she had failed twice. She could take the math test only one more time – the last day of testing – before the new GED rollout began. She needed to pass it in order to certify all her test results.
“I actually finished on the very last day they were taking tests,” said Dail, 31, who passed the math test on her final attempt. “It’s the most incredible feeling in the world. You feel like you’re on top of the world. I thought, ‘My gosh, I’m a graduate.’ I feel like I can do anything and get a job anywhere.”
Like Dail, Ioana Taylor also felt the pressure to complete her GED before the revised exam began in January. Taylor, a Romanian immigrant, has tried to earn her GED for the past three years. During that time, she passed the math test, social studies, science and writing portions. But reading was the elusive holdout, the last subject she needed to finally earn her high school diploma.
“I give up a couple of times,” said Taylor, 38, who moved to the United States six years ago. “It wasn’t easy for me to study in this language. I had tried to do this program for years.”
But, Taylor added, she credits her instructors at COA with helping her believe in herself and continue in her attempts to earn her GED.
“They understand and they say, ‘Don’t give up,’” Taylor said. “They talk to you and they make you feel better. The instructors, they don’t give up on you. They get me through.”
Taylor, who works as a bartender at the Coast Guard base in Elizabeth City, said she couldn’t believe her ears when she found out she had passed the reading test and had finally completed her GED. She began to cry.
“It was happy tears,” she said. “It took me awhile, but I did it.”
Now, Taylor has enrolled as a student at COA and plans on pursuing an Associate’s Degree in Business.
“From there, with that degree, I want to get my bachelor’s degree and find a big company that works between America and Romania, so I can spend a few months here and there. That’s my goal.”
For student Nelveda Brown-Denson, 57, the goal was just finally earning her high school diploma. She dropped out of high school in the ninth grade and had long ago set her sights on getting that credential. About two years ago, she had passed the tests in science, social studies, reading and writing. But she had still yet to pass the math exam.
In October, she was studying for the math test when she was thrown a curveball.
“I found out I had breast cancer,” Brown-Denson said. “That was devastating news. I thought of quitting and didn’t know if I would be able to take the last test when I got it.”
Despite the unwelcome diagnosis, Brown-Denson continued studying for her math test on her own at home and took the test a month after learning she had cancer. She passed and will be taking part in the GED graduation ceremony in February, the same month she completes her chemotherapy treatments.
“I have always wanted to get my GED,” Brown-Denson said. “I just wanted to say I did it.”
Students like Brown-Denson, who completed their GEDs last year, spared themselves the transition to a new computer-based GED exam that is expected to be more difficult. The revised test aligns with the common core curriculum and requires test-takers to provide short answers and extended responses to questions that are between two to four sentences, both are new requirements.
“Previously, the test was almost completely multiple choice,” Solesbee said.
To help test-takers with the new computer-based test, Solesbee said COA is adding a basic computer skills course to its offerings of free GED prep classes. Already, the school offers free GED prep classes in math, social studies, science and English to help students prepare for the exam.
Solesbee expects COA’s GED prep classes will also have to be tweaked in the coming year as the courses are changed to align with the curriculum requirements of the new GED.
Costs for the updated GED exam will vary state to state, but Solesbee said in North Carolina, students can expect to pay $120 for test.
As for Taylor, she knows the discipline that helped her earn her GED last month, will again be required this semester as a part-time student at COA when she begins taking the math classes required for her Associate’s Degree in Business.
But, she added, she knows her hard work will soon pay off.
“One day,” she said, “I will run my own business.”
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