BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Adults who've begun working toward their GED are being urged to finish up this year, before the test for a high school equivalency diploma changes and they have to start all over.
GED Testing Service will introduce a new version of the test, given nationwide, on Jan. 1, 2014. Developers say the first major changes since 2002 will align the test with the new Common Core curricula adopted by most states to increase college and career readiness. It also will shift test-taking from pencil and paper to computer.
Joyce Monroe, 24, is feeling the pressure as she puts in dozens of hours in class every week at the Buffalo Educational Opportunity Center. Two practice tests showed she's ready for writing and science but needs slightly more work in math, along with social studies and language arts.
"I'm really trying to get in before it changes. I'm so close," said Monroe, who said she left high school before graduating for family reasons and is now trying to set an example for her 5-year-old daughter. "I don't want to start all over. That would make me want to drop GED like I did high school."
Those who administer the test have begun to alert the million or so adults who have passed some but not all of the five parts of the current test to complete the missing sections by Dec. 31. If not, their scores will expire and they'll have to begin again under the new program Jan. 1.
"If they are in the pipeline, they need to get it done," said Dr. Danis Gehl, education director at the University at Buffalo's Educational Opportunity Center.
There is also financial incentive to complete the GED this year. At $120, the computer-based version is double the cost of the current test. Several states subsidize some or all of the expense but the student share is widely expected to rise.
About 700,000 people take the GED exam yearly in the United States, said Armando Diaz, spokesman for Washington-based GED Testing Service, the trademarked test's creator. About 72 percent passing to earn their states' high school equivalency credential. More than 1 million people are expected to try in 2013 in advance of the change, a number that could strain preparation programs and testing sites.
Although the General Education Development exam has undergone regular updates since being introduced in 1942, the upcoming changes are the most dramatic yet.
"We see that higher ed has new standards, the workforce, the economy's changing," said Diaz. "We decided it's time to completely give the testing program a facelift."
Instead of five sections, the test will be re-aligned into four: reasoning through language arts, mathematical reasoning, science and social studies. The current stand-alone essay section will be incorporated into writing assignments within the language arts and social studies sections, Diaz said.
"I don't think it's going to be a harder test, I just think we're testing different skills," he said.
Tashia Malone of Buffalo is taking no chances, spending her mornings at the Seneca Babcock Community Center's preparation class in hopes of sitting for the two-day test in May.
"I should have done it already. Procrastination is my middle name," said Malone, 34, who dropped out of high school when she became pregnant. "I heard it's going to be a lot harder and cost more next year so I want to get it in now."
EOC Executive Director Julius Gregg Adams suggested that adults unfamiliar with the Common Core standards, a uniform school curriculum heavier on writing and content analysis, may be more comfortable getting the test out of the way this year, though he's reluctant to say the new test will be harder.
"The current test more than likely reflects learning standards that individuals have been exposed to when they were in secondary education," he said. "The Common Core standards more than likely probably reflect standards that individuals have not been exposed to."
In New York City, the Fund for Public Advocacy-led Campaign to Finish has set up a hotline to refer students for tutoring, targeting those who've taken the test before but haven't passed all sections.
"It's going to be more difficult. It's going to cost more money next year, so I think that motivates people," said Juan Santos, 34, who is preparing for the GED in Methuen, Mass., with the goal of becoming a police officer in Florida. "I couldn't believe I waited so long."
While the GED, initially developed for U.S. military personnel who had not completed high school, is the pathway recognized by every state toward a high school equivalency diploma, New York and other states are exploring development of an alternative. Without the computer infrastructure statewide to test large numbers of people and one of the lowest pass rates in the nation, at 59.4 percent, New York has solicited bids for development of a test that would maintain the paper and pencil option for the time being and more slowly phase in the Common Core standards.
"We're trying to make the transition to the test a little more seamless, a little softer, not put so much stress on our programs, on our infrastructure and most especially our students," said Kevin Smith, the State Education Department deputy commissioner for adult career and continuing education.