It took more than three decades, a marriage, two kids and two grandchildren – with another on the way – before Tunicia Fields finally received the news shed dreamed of for many years.
On Wednesday, surrounded by her new friends at the Bill C. Anthis Career Center, Fields celebrated, tears brimming in her eyes, as she clutched a paper with her GED scores.
She passed. With flying colors.
Like many of her classmates, Fields was facing a challenging deadline – impending changes to the Pearson GED test that include a more difficult, and more costly, computer-based test due to arrive Jan. 2.
Last year, Pearson, the company that owns the rights to the GED test, announced plans to revamp the exam and create a computer-based program that aligns with national education standards – in addition to nearly doubling the cost of the test.
The new structure means big changes for Hoosiers who wish to complete the GED and places pressure on students who are yet to complete the full exam.
If they are unable to pass all five sections of the exam before the end of the year, students will have to start from scratch, said Pat Boles, continuing education manager for Fort Wayne Community Schools.
Right now, what were doing is trying to get the word out to students, particularly those who have been working toward their GED, that they need to get in and finish their test before mid-December, Boles said.
Whats not known at this point is whether the state will stick with Pearson or opt to find another provider willing to offer a similar test on paper and computer at a lower cost, Boles said.
That decision is expected to be announced in the coming weeks, state officials said.
Thats the million-dollar question at this point because starting next year, everything will change, Boles said.
The GED – or General Educational Development – test is a five-section exam designed to measure the test takers high school-level academic skills.
The GED was created in the 1940s for military personnel and veterans returning from war to give them the academic credentials they needed to get jobs, attend postsecondary education or have access to training, according to the GED Testing Service website.
The test gives students who did not complete high school the opportunity to earn the equivalent of a high school diploma, although paperwork stating an individual has passed the GED is not considered a diploma.
According to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, 98 percent of colleges and universities that require a high school diploma will accept the GED credential instead and 96 percent of companies accept applicants who have passed a GED for jobs requiring a high school diploma.
Pearson began piecing together a new test in 2010 but put plans on hold until legislative decisions about Common Core State Standards and other assessments had been debated and discussed, GED Testing Service spokesman Armando Diaz said.
The test was most recently revised in 2002, Diaz said.
The current test has five sections: reading, writing, science, social studies and mathematics. It is offered in both computer and pencil-and-paper versions and ranges in price depending on the test takers state, Diaz said.
In New York, for example, residents pay nothing to take the test. But in California, fees can reach $250, he said.
In Indiana, current GED test takers pay about $65 to take the full test on paper and $120 to take the full test on a computer.
The new test, however, will focus on four content areas – reasoning through language arts, mathematical reasoning, science and social studies – and will have to be taken on the computer for a total cost of $120, Diaz said.
Joe Frank, an Indiana Department of Workforce Development spokesman, said the state has been in talks since finding out that Pearson planned to increase prices and eliminate pencil-and-paper testing.
Weve been working with a group of 40 other states and have been looking at several different proposals to see if theres another provider we can use for the GED exam, Frank said.
Other states, such as New York, have already opted for a new test from McGraw-Hill called the Test Assessing Secondary Completion, according to a statement from the New York State Education Department.
The test is available in both paper and computer versions, and the base cost would be $54, according to the CTB/McGraw-Hill website.
Frank said his department hopes to make an announcement next month about whether it will remain with Pearson or switch to a new GED test provider.
We hope to have this wrapped up very soon, Frank said.
There are about 24,500 adults ages 18 to 64 in Allen County without a diploma or GED, he said.
Several local organizations, including the Fort Wayne Literacy Alliance, are also scrambling to make the necessary changes before students return to GED classes.
The Literacy Alliance offers programs in local churches, community centers and other high-needs areas to help people prepare for the GED test, said Brian Schlichtenmyer, adult program manager.
Weve been working since April or May to get things formulated and figure out how to move forward with the 2014 version of the GED, he said.
When Schlichtenmyer heard about the coming changes to the GED program, the first two concerns he had were the same as those voiced by other organizations – the cost and challenges of offering only a computerized test.
A computer-based test can really be a barrier for the students because they need a certain degree of comfort with computer skills to be able to do it, he said.
Cost will also be a hurdle for students, many of whom come from low-income areas, Schlichtenmyer added.
Though the Literacy Alliance does not have a testing site, the alliance offers vouchers to help pay for the cost of the paper exam at Anthis or Ivy Tech.
Budgetary-wise, we are only able to pay for the voucher for the paper test – not the $120 computer test, Schlichtenmyer said.
Anthis, in the former Central High School building at 1200 Barr St., serves as a combined site for GED classes and testing as part of the districts continuing education program.
Ivy Tech Community College also serves as a GED testing site but does not offer classes, according to Lynell Sparks, the assessment and workforce certification center manager.
Finding the future
Last September, nearly 34 years after dropping out of Elmhurst High School her junior year, Tunicia Fields returned to the classroom at Anthis to begin the process of obtaining her GED.
I was bound and determined not to let my grandkids get their education before I did, she said Wednesday.
Fields dropped out of high school to get married and then moved to Japan where they started a family.
They then returned to Fort Wayne in 1984.
From the time her first son was born, Fields turned her attention to her childrens education – determined to have them succeed in school and go on to careers.
One son graduated from Wayne High School and the second dropped out of South Side High School but later obtained his GED through the program at Anthis.
Once her children graduated, Fields took on the lions share of caring for her 97-year-old mother and her brother who uses a wheelchair, a result of a stroke several years ago.
Im 51 years old and Ive always wanted to get an education, she said. I used to just hand my mail or paperwork to my kids and tell them, read this and tell me what I need to do.
But not anymore, she added. Her classmate, Queen Juarez sat at her desk Wednesday, carefully working through math problems as she prepared to take the math portion of the GED in the coming weeks.
Juarez, 30, said she decided in October that it was time to work toward her goal of obtaining a GED.
With some help from her teachers at Anthis and many hours of studying, Juarez passed the first four sections of the test with only the mathematics portion remaining.
But with the deadline quickly approaching to complete the GED exam, Juarez said she plans to study as long as it takes to make sure she passes the test by the end of this year.
Math has always been the hard one for me, she said. But I will get it done before the new exam comes.
Like many of the other students at Anthis, Juarez has opted to take part of her exam pencil-and-paper style, an option that could soon be eliminated.
I took the other sections all on the computer, but I think math is one of those things that I need to be able to write out on paper, she said. So Im gonna try it that way this time.
Like the more than 1,000 other students each year who attend classes at Anthis in hopes of getting a GED, Fields has a story that is special, but not unique, Boles said.
These are the people who come to us, the stories we hear, he said.