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New test will replace GED

Literacy Project, GCC prepare for shift

Adult learners without high school degrees who were seeking an equivalent academic certification have, since World War II, turned to the General Education Development (GED) test.

But now Massachusetts adults will need to take a new test: the HiSET, run by the Educational Testing Service. Local educators, who did not know until Thursday which of three possible tests the state would choose to replace the GED, said they’ll need to study the test and train quickly to be able to help prepare their students.

“We have to dig in and look at the nuts and bolts of the new test,” said Judith Roberts, executive director of the Literacy Project, which teaches about 100 students in Greenfield and Orange, and has for the past three decades or so.

Between 200 and 250 students in Franklin County, who receive help from a handful of organizations in the county, take a high school equivalency test each year.

The state won’t know until later this month how much the HiSET test will cost or when it will first be offered.

State spokesman J.C. Considine said that the transition should be smooth. Like the GED, students will need to take and pass five different subject tests (reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies) within a year to complete the HiSET exam.

Greenfield Community College has served as Franklin County’s GED testing site, and officials there would like to continue hosting this new test — although they, like teachers in the area, first heard the news about the change on Thursday.

The announcement ends a period of uncertainty, which Roberts and other teachers said was a frustrating time for both students and teachers — who were unclear what exactly they should be studying.

It also comes after a year that saw a surge of students rush to take the GED ahead of the upcoming changes. Any students across the country who did not complete all five subjects of the GED by the end of December will be need to start from scratch in 2014.

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Although “GED” is often used to refer to a high school equivalency certificate, the term — like Dumpster, Frisbee, Kleenex and Q-tips — is actually a trademark.

The American Council on Education and education company Pearson jointly own the GED and went live on Thursday with a brand new version of the test. It meets new national standards that measure how prepared students are for college or careers.

Considine said that while the new GED test implemented these changes overnight, the HiSET will make the change gradually, over a course of three years. He believes this will give students and teachers more time to adjust to these changes.

Roberts said that the Literacy Project has been revising its curriculum for months, but will need to continue this process in the spring.

Instead of being asked to write the essay, “What I did on my summer vacation,” students will need to write a response that compares two different reading samples, said Roberts.

“Now that the state has chosen which tests they are going to adopt, we can all begin the process of learning more about the tests, and how we will have to adapt our teaching to our adult learners,” said Annette Kilminster, a GED instructor at the Franklin Hampshire Career Center.

“In the meantime, students will still have to know the basics of math and grammar and writing, as well as background knowledge in science and social studies, and be able to apply facts to reasoning skills in all these areas,” she said.

Educational Testing Service, the not-for-profit company that administers the HiSET, is involved with a number of other tests — including the SAT for college-bound students and the GRE for those preparing for graduate school.

Paper or computer

Another advantage of the HiSET test, said Considine, is that students can take it in paper or computer form. This was another area in which the new GED test switched overnight, from exclusively paper-and-pencil to exclusively on computer.

Kate Devlin, who coordinates GED testing at Greenfield Community College, was pleased to see this flexibility.

“We don’t want to have more barriers to education,” she said. “We want to increase availability.”

Roberts said that teachers at the Literacy Project encourage their students to learn computer skills and will do so with this test, as well.

Including a computer in the test increases the cost for students, said Considine. All three tests Massachusetts considered — the HiSET, the new GED and the Test Assessing Secondary Completion — featured an increase in cost.

It’s still unclear exactly how much the test will cost students, and the state won’t know for sure until later this month. It’s an area of great concern for educators who fear that any increase will deter students from taking the tests.

“Any change that closes the door to those in the (high school equivalency) pipeline robs not only the future of those students, but undermines the health and well being of our community’s future as well,” said GCC President Robert Pura.

“While the increase might seem small to some, it is the difference between walking through the door or not, for many,” he said.

The old GED test cost $65 for all five tests and a $17 re-test fee for any subject, said Devlin. HiSET’s website lists its price at $50, but that will not include a state fee that is used to pay testing centers like GCC.

Devlin hopes that the community college, which has offered about three testing days each month, will be allowed to host this new test as well. Considine said that the state will be reaching out soon to the testing centers to see if they’d like to continue.

You can reach Chris Shores at: cshores@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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