GED changes could limit testing availability at South San Francisco center 

Big changes coming to the GED exam in December may limit students' ability to take the test at a South San Francisco Adult Education center.

The test, which is the only high school equivalency credential recognized in all 50 states, will have a new format, done all on computers rather than paper, and the content will change as well. Pearson, the testing company that builds and scores the exam, hopes the new format will make testing easier for students and the new content will better reflect the new federally recommended Common Core education standards being implemented this year in public schools.

But the South San Francisco Adult Education center may decide not to administer the new test at all. Students would still be able to attend the pre-test practice exams there and receive the General Educational Development test tutoring that's currently offered, but they'd have to take the test elsewhere.

"I am in contact with the company that will be administering the online test," said Principal Michael Coyne. "Cost and being able to meet the standards for a secure testing environment are the issues that need to be addressed."

Paula Stokes, chief examiner for GED at South San Francisco Adult Education, said she is disappointed that the school may decide to no longer offer the test. She said South City is a unique community that has a need for a testing center.

"Many of our students wouldn't feel as comfortable going down to San Mateo to take the test," she said.

She also says the testing changes might hurt students who may not have proficient typing skills.

"So now they have to type out the writing portions, and they've only got 45 minutes to write an essay. If they don't have good typing skills, it could hurt their chances of getting done in time," Stokes said.

"We had one student, a gentleman, this guy took the math test for 11 years, and he finally passed. He was a gardener in San Francisco ... the test was on his bucket list. When he passed we had a big celebration. But it just kind of breaks your heart."

More employers than ever are requiring a GED or high school diploma, Stokes said, and the number of test-takers is increasing as well. This year, South City saw about 200 students take the GED exam.

For those who weren't able to finish high school, a GED test is their only opportunity to gain the equivalency credentials they'll likely need to get a job.

Many GED recipients in South City go on to successful careers in construction, Stokes said. But getting a GED isn't such a simple matter, and she's afraid the new format and a possible lack of test administration at the school will put more obstacles in the way for those trying to finish.

"If the students don't get the help and support they need, they'll just keep repeating the same mistakes," she said.

Correction: This article was updated on Sept. 24, 2013. A previous version of this article incorrectly described the Common Core standards. They are federally recommended standards.

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