GED a journey 12,000 Tennesseans take each year, 3M in state eligible to take test

It's a journey 12,000 Tennesseans make each year, one that for many leads to increased self-satisfaction, better job opportunities, higher lifetime earning potential and greater success for their children.

The fare is only $25, and the good news is that 3 million people living in Tennessee are eligible for the trip. Where does it lead? To the GED, the General Educational Development diploma, the equivalent of a high school diploma.

Each year, roughly 12,000 state residents drop out of high school and another 12,000 decide to pursue and achieve their GED. For many, the diploma is a ticket to increased job and educational opportunities.

"Most people want the GED for the better employment opportunities it gives them, because a lot of factories and businesses won't hire without it or a high school degree," says Beth Stapor, counselor and test coordinator at Tennessee Technological University. "They also want it because they want to enroll in college.

"And some people say they want to do it for their children. I had one man who took it three times, and actually hugged me when he passed. He said he didn't want his son to make the same mistake he did, and that he was being a better role model for having gotten his high school equivalency diploma," Stapor says.

For many, deciding to pursue the diploma marks a personal milestone. "People don't take the GED until they've gotten to a point in life where they want to better themselves," Stapor said. "It's a visible accomplishment, an achievement, and often it gives them just the boost they need to build their self confidence and go on to college or look for a better job."

Test to change Jan. 1

Test takers will soon find changes in the GED. The exam, or test battery, consists of five individual tests: writing skills, social studies, science, mathematics and a single category of literature and arts. Presently to pass the exam, individuals must achieve a total score of 225 points or an average score of 45 on individual tests with no single score below 35. Effective Jan. 1, 1997, the minimum score of 35 will increase to 40.

"The state is raising the cut-off point because it wants to see a higher level of mastery on each test," Stapor says. "For test takers, the change simply means they need to prepare before taking the exam, which is something we tell them already."

And there are several resources available to help Tennesseans prepare. Each of the state's 95 counties offers free GED test preparation classes through the local board of education. Many are scheduled in the evenings and at other times convenient to working adults and parents. For those who'd rather study on their own, libraries and bookstores offer GED preparation manuals.

Each year about 400 people take the GED exam at Tennessee Tech. About 66 percent of them pass it on the first try. Those who don't are eligible to return and re-take individual test sections for $5 a section.

Employers should know the GED is truly equivalent to a high school diploma. The exam is administered to hundreds of high school seniors each year, as part of the exam evaluation. Only three out of four are able to pass it. In 1993, the U.S. Department of Education released a study showing literacy skills of GED graduates are virtually identical to those of traditional high school students.

"There's no question the GED is on par with a traditional high school diploma," Stapor says, "and that equivalency is recognized nationwide by employers, educators and others."

Tennessee Tech has been administering the GED since the test began in 1942. Stapor says the successes are inspiring.

"A few years ago, we had a lady who was 71 years old pass. To think about doing algebra in your 70s! We've had people who have taken the test several times. They didn't give up on their dream, and they ultimately passed. And there was a woman in her late 50s who came to me. One of her children had become a pharmacist and another an attorney, yet she was apprehensive about taking the exam. I asked her where her children got their intelligence and I encouraged her to take the test. She passed the first time. She was so excited."

For many, taking the exam is a family affair. "A lot of times, husbands and wives take it together, and we've had mothers and their sons come in," Stapor says. "In fact, one mother said she asked that her Mother's Day present be that her four children take the test, and she paid for them to do it."

Whatever the motivation, earning a GED diploma is an accomplishment to take pride in, and like most goals, it also marks a starting point that can lead in many different directions. A new job, for instance, or on to further education. The GED diploma can be the ticket to an associate's degree or other degree from one of Tennessee's many technology centers and community colleges. And GED recipients pursue four-year degrees, as well. Each year, some 11 percent of students in Tennessee's colleges and universities are GED diploma holders.

To find out more about the exam, individuals should contact their local board of education or call the Tennessee Department of Education at 615/741-2132.