GED students buckle down to beat test-change deadline

By Eric Stevick

Herald Writer

Like thousands of American adults without a high school diploma, Mary Kutch is in a high-stakes hurry these days.

The Lynnwood resident has passed three of the five exams it takes to earn her GED, or General Education Development certificate, which gives adults who didn’t finish high school a chance to show they have gained the skills and knowledge of high school graduates.

Problem is the company that furnishes GED exams is changing the format Jan. 1. Anyone who has not completed the battery of five exams by then will have to start from scratch.

Kutch, a 25-year-old mother of two, is feeling the pressure. She wants to earn her GED to improve her job opportunities and serve as an example about the importance of education to her children, ages 3 and 5.

She just doesn’t want to have to start over Jan. 1.

"If I don’t get to finish it, then all the hard work I have done is going to go out in the trash and I don’t think that’s fair," she said. "I think they should give the students a bit more time to finish."

GED facts

Here are a few facts and figures about GEDs, also known as General Educational Development certificates:

  • More than 850,000 adults take the GED tests each year. While sizable, it is a small fraction of the 45.5 million Americans who have not completed high school.

  • Nationally, one out of every seven people who graduate each year earns that diploma by passing the GED tests. In Washington state, the ratio is one out of six.

  • The series of GED tests currently in use was introduced in 1988 and requires about seven hours and 45 minutes to take.

  • GED graduates include Bill Cosby, Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas, Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo.

  • Community colleges across the country are gearing up for a busy fall.

    "If history is any indicator, it will be," said Lyn Schaefer, director of test development for the non-profit GED Testing Service, which is run by the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C.

    There was a flood of test-takers in 1987 — right before the last time the exam format was changed.

    The GED consists of exams covering writing, social studies, science, math and literature and the arts. The first GED diplomas were given in 1942 to American GIs who interrupted high school to serve in World War II. They were offered to the general public in 1947. Nationally, one out of every seven people who graduates each year earns that diploma by passing the GED tests.

    The new exams will reflect changes in academic standards that have taken places in high schools across the country.

    "People ask, ‘Why are you changing?’ " Schaefer said. "The states are changing. Why wouldn’t we do the same?"

    Washington state mirrors the rest of the country with adults expected to flock to the state’s 57 GED testing centers.

    "I know it’s already happening across the state," said Alleyne Bruch, state GED administrator. "The sad part is we know there are going to be folks that are going to get caught."

    Edmonds and Everett community colleges are anticipating a heavy influx.

    "We may see a real wave of people coming this fall trying to beat the deadline," said Stu Barger, vice president of educational services at Everett Community College.

    Kelly Quismundu has been attending GED classes at Edmonds Community College. Like Kutch, who is a classmate, she is anxious to finish and improve her job prospects.

    "My motivation is really for myself and my children," she said. "These minimum wage jobs don’t cut it. They don’t support a family at all. … I have worked not-fun, don’t-want-to-be-there jobs."

    These days, RaMaizy Brown is feeling relieved she has finished the last of her GED exams in June. Nationally, about 70 percent of test-takers pass.

    Brown, a 23-year-old mother, is now taking college-level courses at EdCC where she also attended classes for her GED.

    It has been a long road for Brown, a 10th-grade dropout who spent time on streets of Seattle as a homeless teen-ager.

    Her GED is more than a gateway to a better job. It has improved her self-esteem and outlook on life by convincing her that she is a capable learner, she said.

    For Brown, with knowledge comes a thirst for more knowledge.

    "It’s such a great feeling to know where to use a comma," she said.

    You can call Herald Writer Eric Stevick at 425-339-3446

    or send e-mail to stevick@heraldnet.com.

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