CONWAY — | Nick Hochmuth had been putting off taking the General Educational Development (GED) test for years, but when he finally decided to take that step, the testing session he wanted last Saturday was already maxed out at 60 people.
“I figured it was about time for me to take it,” said Hochmuth, although he admitted he also had some prodding from his girlfriend.
Hochmuth’s efforts could have stalled for another month, if he had been forced to wait for another offering of the written test. Instead, he was able to register online Wednesday night and take a computerized version the next day at the Conway Education Center through Horry County Schools’ Adult Education program.
Thursday’s computerized GED test was the first to be offered in the state, with Hochmuth the first of two test-takers to use the new system. South Carolina is the 15th state to add the computerized test, said John Robinson, senior field outreach manager for the GED Testing Service, which launched the new system in Indiana at the beginning of the year.
The online test will allow access to far more potential test takers, helping to address a critical need in Horry County.
“Over 30,000 people who are over age 25 are without a high school credential in Horry County,” said Virginia Simmons, Adult Education director, of the new GED “We are barely touching the surface.”
Robinson, who was at the Conway center, said the testing service intends to have the system in all 76 U.S. jurisdictions -- including Puerto Rico and other territories – by the end of this year. Written tests still will be available through next year, but they will be phased out by January 2014, when the computerized version will be mandated.
“It’s so simple [to register],” Simmons said. “It’s going to open testing up to so many more people.”
The GED measures high school-level academic skills and was developed in 1942 to help military veterans who had not finished school to qualify for jobs and postsecondary education. The tests are revised every 10 to 12 years to keep pace with school academics, and Simmons said passing the GED continues to open doors for the area’s unemployed and underemployed.
The GED consists of five subtests -- reading, writing, math, science and social studies – and the entire test takes about seven hours with 10-minute breaks between each subtest. Participants are encouraged to take no more than three subtests per day.
Simmons said one of the problems with the traditional pencil-and-paper testing method is that it requires three days of preparation before it can be administered. That process not only limits the number of available testing days to once or twice a month, but it also requires much more staffing. Security measures are strict for the booklets, which are kept under lock and key with limited staff access, and each one must be examined individually and found free of any marks that could compromise the test.
Robinson said 500,000 booklets are destroyed each year because of marks. Each booklet must be accounted for, said Colleen Clark, GED testing examiner with the S.C. Department of Education, and just one missing form could shut down testing in a 50-mile radius.
“Each year, 750,000 are tested and 460,000 pass -- we’re at capacity [using the written test],” Robinson said. “We’ve got to make this test more accessible.”
The computerized test does just that, allowing participants to schedule online, any time, for subtests that can be held several times a week. Robinson said it also lets speedy test-takers end each session at their own pace, rather than having to wait on everyone in the group to finish at the end of the allotted time period.
Another plus is more immediate scoring, Robinson said. Participants have had to wait from three to four weeks to get written results, but the computerized test will yield results within the week, as well as give the test-taker more information on which areas were weak, he said.
“The most important thing is what it does for these students,” said Simmons, who said that while nationally, only 60 percent of high school graduates can pass the GED, Horry’s Adult Education has a passing rate of 87 percent.
Simmons said the Conway center has been ready for the computerized test for about five months, since they set up a computer lab that also is used as a center for regional technical training with the RAETAC System. She said each subtest on the computer costs $30, but those who come through Adult Education classes are eligible for staff-funded scholarships, which are based on their achievement rather than need.
The computerized test is based on the Common Core State Standards, which Simmons said Adult Education classes are transitioning to quickly. South Carolina adopted the standards in 2010; K-12 classes currently are transitioning to the standards, which will be fully implemented in 2014.
Clark said she hopes that by the end of the year, all seven of the state’s official GED testing centers will be up and running with the new system. In addition, South Carolina’s 40+ adult education programs will be working through next year to have the program on at least one or two computers.
Robinson emphasized how instrumental the new test is becoming in the mission to make GED testing available to a larger number of people. A Lancaster native, he said he dropped out of school in the 1960s to work at a cotton mill, but he went back through adult education and earned his GED to improve his chances for employment and a better life.
“I understand what it can do,” said Robinson, who now holds a doctorate degree in education and a national award from the GED Testing Service. “I have no idea what my life would be like without it.”
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.