Beginning next year, New Jersey's high school equivalency exam will cost more to take and be harder to pass, and that has some residents racing to get their GED before Dec. 31.
The current GED test expires Dec. 31, and when it does, New Jersey adults who have not passed all sections of it will have to start over with a brand-new test aligned to the national Common Core standards.
But just which test they will take has still not been decided and could delay any new testing for several months into 2014, officials at area test centers said. The new tests will also cost more, in some cases almost double the current cost of about $65.
That's why Claudia Beteta, 30, of Wildwood, has been studying really hard. She needs just a few more correct math problems to pass the math section of the GED test and get her high school equivalency diploma. She is scheduled to re-take the math test in December. If she passes, she wants to enroll in either a vocational cosmetology program or community college.
“I want to get another job,” she told The Press of Atlantic City, adding there is no future in motel housekeeping, where she works seven days a week in the summer, but is mostly unemployed in the winter.
As the GED deadline approaches, local testing centers have been adding more testing dates and working with students trying to pass before the deadline. They said with few definitive answers from the state, they do not know what will be offered in 2014, or when.
“They'd better hurry,” said Laura Elston, chief examiner of the GED testing site at Cape May Technical High School in Cape May Court House. “We have a few more testing slots, but most are full, especially for math.”
According to the 2012 GED annual report, nearly 60 percent of the 13,198 New Jersey residents who completed the test that year passed all five sections, leaving almost 5,400 people with at least one section to pass before the deadline.
Examiner David Moltane at the Vineland Adult Education testing site, the only one south of Camden to also offer the test in Spanish, said he has a waiting list. He said he will try to accommodate all test-takers, especially those trying to pass just one section, but he only works part time and is limited to how many tests he can give each day.
“I've got 10 new emails today from people who just need to pass one section,” he said last week.
The Pleasantville site at the One-Stop Career Center is also almost full through December. Barbara Kozak, senior manager of adult education and the GED at Atlantic Cape Community College, the lead agency for GED programs in Atlantic and Cape May counties, said she gets calls daily from people all over South Jersey looking for a slot to take the test this year, and she is very concerned that there may be a considerable delay before a new test can be offered.
At its November meeting, the state Board of Education discussed a resolution that would allow at least three new tests to be used in New Jersey. They include the new General Educational Development, or GED, test developed by Pearson Vue, the High School Equivalency Test, or HiSET, developed by the Educational Testing Service, and the Test of Adult Secondary Completion, or TASC, developed by McGraw Hill. The board is scheduled to vote on the resolution at its Dec. 4 meeting.
Early in 2013, most examiners had assumed the new online GED would be the only option. But as state officials nationwide expressed concerns about the cost and technology required for the new test, the two other tests were developed. At least seven states have already chosen HiSET.
According to a PowerPoint presented to the state board, the new GED would only be given online and would cost $80. The ETS and McGraw Hill tests would be available in both paper and online for now, at a cost of either about $50 or $75, respectively. Test centers could also charge an administrative fee of as much as $40.
If New Jersey does opt to accept all three, as expected, the state's 32 testing centers would then decide which tests they would provide. They could offer just one or all three.
Moltane said the HiSET would likely be a popular choice in South Jersey because of the lower cost, the paper test option and because students would register online, reducing paperwork costs for testing sites.
“No one makes money giving these tests,” he said. “It's really more a public service.”
The Pleasantville One-Stop Center offers practice time on computers, and assistant Rifath Jahan said many people of all ages are unfamiliar with testing on computers, which would make passing harder for them.
Elston said no matter what is decided, it will take time to get the new testing set up, materials ordered and staff trained. She and Kozak said it could be March before any new tests would be given.
Sandy Borkowski, a teacher at the Wildwood One-Stop Career Center, said students have been working so hard to pass by the deadline that she worries some might give up if they don't pass and have to wait months to start over with a new test, which is expected to be more challenging.
“They are so close,” she said. “They really want to do better for themselves. It takes a real inner drive to do this.”
The potential passage of the New Jersey Dream Act, which would allow residents illegally in the United States to attend state colleges at in-state tuition rates, also means those who do get their high school equivalency diploma could now consider higher education options that before were unaffordable.
Borkowski said a delay in the new test would particularly hurt shore residents, who typically have more time to study and take the tests in the winter. By spring and summer, they are working too much.
Beteta said that when she arrived in the U.S. from Mexico at age 14, she was not enrolled in school. She took care of younger children, then began working and started her own family. Now, she wants to improve her life. If she passes the math test, she can start that life in January. If not, well, she prefers to stay positive.
“I think if others can do it, I can, too,” she said. “This is an opportunity tochange my life, my future.”