Education
7:00 am
Fri July 19, 2013

As The GED Goes Digital, Testing Centers Face A Crunch

Next year, students who want to get their GED will have to take the test on a computer instead of on paper. Some testing centers in Texas have already made the transition.
Credit wyoguard / Flickr

GED testing is joining the digital age. Beginning in January, there will be no more paper tests. Students will have to use a computer. That’s launched a debate among people who give the test and the State Board of Education which is wondering if it should seek an alternative test for adults who want to get a high school equivalent certificate.

Getting a GED is tough. And it’s even tougher when you can’t find a place to take the test.

Jasmine Africawala, who works for the Dallas Public Library, says there’s not enough room or staff for all the people who want take the exam.

“There’s a huge problem in this area, especially trying to get students into a testing location," she says, "and there’s an even bigger problem with trying to get Spanish-speaking students into a testing location to take the test in Spanish."

That’s where the switch to digital will help.

“With the tests going to the computer, it’s not necessarily dependent on the personnel, because they can go and get on the computer and literally click on Español and be able to test on the computer,” Africawala says.

Texas is joining 39 states that already offer a computer-based test from a company called GED Testing Services.

Deborah Davis, who oversees a testing center in Lewisville, is concerned about the new requirements to administer the test, and one in particular: Desks now have to be spaced four feet apart.

“We will not be able to test as many people as we have in the past," she says. "We could test paper wise maybe up to 60 people and now it looks like we’re only gonna be able to do 15."

Davis says her center may have to offer the test twice a month instead of once, but that still might not be enough. The nearest testing site in Carrollton recently closed, and she’s been swamped with GED seekers.

“We’re getting people as far as Irving, Fort Worth, South Dallas," Davis said. "It’s just insane. They can’t find a testing center. It’s getting harder and harder to find spots.”

On Thursday, the Texas Board of Education made some changes to ease the transition from paper to computer. The final vote’s in September.

Among the changes: allow more places to offer the test.

There’s another hurdle for students: cost. The price for a student taking all five parts of the new test will be $135 -- up from $90 now.

That worries state board chair Tom Maynard.

"For the most part, most people who are taking a high school equivalency test are folks who don’t have a disposable income. So that is a concern," Maynard said.

Some board members also talked about Texas breaking away from the GED.

"I don’t think any of us really benefit from a monopoly," Maynard added. "I think it would be prudent for us to allow free market forces to kind of drive a lot of this."

That could mean the state going with a rival company or even creating its own test.

As part of KERA's American Graduate initiative, the station and other Texas PBS outlets aired a GED-test-prep series called "GED Connection" this spring. You can watch the 39-part series here.