In Our View: GED Deadline Draws Near

Many students should worry abouthaving to start from scratch

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Considering that they have altered the way we communicate, shop, listen to music, pay our taxes, read the news and even find a date, it's no surprise that computers have changed the way we learn. The latest example is a vast change to the GED program — General Educational Development — in Washington and most other states.

As reported in a recent story from The Associated Press, the changes could come as an unwelcome surprise for thousands of people in Washington. For those who have completed portions of the five-pronged test in recent years, they have until Jan. 1 to complete the entire exam or they will be starting from scratch. According to administrators of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges' high school equivalency exam program, about 25,000 Washington residents started the GED exam in the past five years but did not complete it, meaning that there are plenty of people out there who are not prepared for the changes in the test procedures.

Those changes, however, were only a matter of time. Washington and most other states are moving to a computer-based testing system that will have four parts rather than the previous five. The exams will provide more timely feedback on whether a participant has passed the test, will allow for more frequent retakes than the paper version of the exam, and will have a fee of $120, down from the total of $150 to take the current phases of the test.

"It's really kind of a momentous change that many people aren't aware of," said Sally Raftery, program coordinator and GED examiner at Bellevue College. Locally, Clark College serves as a testing center for the GED, like many of the state's two-year colleges. And those who started the exam elsewhere in the state may finish it at any of the testing centers.

The GED continues to play an important role in improving lives. According to the Washington Student Achievement Council, about 200,000 Washington residents between the ages of 25 and 44 do not have a high school diploma. There undoubtedly are various reasons for that, with students failing to finish high school because of illness to themselves or a family member; because at that age they can't handle the structure of an academic setting; because of unstable home lives; or maybe because of drug or alcohol abuse. GED programs long have served to show that a person's academic growth is not limited to adolescence, providing a sense of accomplishment and a boost of self-esteem.

In the online world of academia, Western Governors University Washington also is a burgeoning font of instruction that is a step removed from the one-size-fits-all tradition of education. Signed into law in 2011 by then-Gov. Chris Gregoire, the university caters to mid-career adults and has accredited programs for both undergraduates and graduate students. With all classes taken online, students are allowed to move toward a degree at their own pace, and tuition is much lower than at the typical brick-and-mortar school.

Online colleges and GED programs are not for everybody. But neither is the traditional model of getting good grades in high school, trying to get into a prestigious college, earning a degree in four years, and beginning a career in your chosen field. For many students, real life gets in the way long before they finish high school, and one of the state's primary duties is to provide educational options for such students. Learning should be a lifelong endeavor, and those who have started pursuit of a GED should be aware of the coming changes.