Lisa Henderson, of Wildwood, works on a GED math test at the Cape May County One-Stop Career Center in Wildwood recently. It's the last of the GED tests she needs to finish her high-school level education so she can go on to become a certified nursing assistant.

Dale Gerhard

A new online GED high school equivalency diploma test will begin in January 2014. It will be more expensive, and likely more challenging.

Anyone who has not passed all five sections of the current test will have to take the entire test over. Local testing and training facilities have been trying to get the word out, so prospective students will have as much time as possible to get their diplomas.

“We really don’t know yet what it will look like, but we do hear it will be a more difficult test,” said Barbara Kozek, GED coordinator at Atlantic Cape Community College, which is the lead agency for GED preparation programs in Atlantic and Cape May counties. “We are telling people that it might be advantageous to complete it in 2013.”

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Sally Rutherford, a GED instructor based at the One-Stop Career Center in Wildwood, said she doesn’t want people to lose the scores they worked so hard to earn.

“The people who come in here are very brave,” she said. “It took some a long time to get up the nerve to come in. I always congratulate them for coming, but now I am also emphasizing that this is the last year for the old test.”

Lisa Henderson, of Wildwood, has been working toward her GED diploma for eight years. She just needs to pass the math test.

Henderson said she dropped out of high school because she found it too hard. She is determined to finish, admitting she has been distracted by work and life.

“If it weren’t for Sally, I wouldn’t have made it this long,” she said. Now 32, she’d like to do more with her life than sweep the Boardwalk and clean bathrooms. She’d like to become a certified nursing assistant. But first, she needs a high school diploma.

The new GED is a partnership between the American Council on Education, which operates the GED Testing Service, and Pearson, a company developing the new online test based on the national Common Core State Standards. Those standards have been adopted by New Jersey as the basis for new standards and tests for public schools.

More than 1 million adults in New Jersey do not have a high school credential, according to the GED Testing Service 2011 annual report. Last year, 13,752 New Jersey residents took the GED test, 13,375 completed all five sections and 8,547 — about 64 percent — passed.

Currently, GED applicants in New Jersey pay $50 to take all five sections of the test the first time, then $10 each time they retest a section. Students are tested in reading, writing, math, science and social studies, with math being the section they are most likely to fail.

In 2014, the national cost for the online test will be $120 for all five sections and $24 for individual sections. Students will be able to take one section at at time. The American Council on Education will set minimum passing scores, but state Departments of Education will be able to increase those scores. A spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Education said no decisions have been made on how they will handle the new GED.

A number of states have begun offering the current test online. In New Jersey, Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, Monmouth County, is running a pilot program for online testing. Nancy O’Shea, manager of testing services at Brookdale, said the school expects 15 people to take the test in the next month. Two have completed it, so far.

An advantage to the online system is that students can take the test at their convenience, rather than having to register to take the secured paper test on designated days, she said. Some sites offer the paper test only two or three times a month.

That might benefit Brenda Giordano, 46, of Lower Township, who took classes last year but never took the test because she couldn’t get off work.

“I definitely want to get it in 2013,” she said. “I’ve been a chambermaid for the last four years, and I’d like to do more.”

O’Shea said one participant in the online pilot program needs to get the GED by January for a job. He would not have been able to do that on the paper-test schedule. He will not only have time to take the online test but can retest any section he may fail. She said students are getting $70 vouchers to cover the difference between the $50 paper test and the $120 online cost.

Rutherford said some students aren’t proficient on computers, especially with typing skills, and will need the practice to take the test online.

Lynnel Johnson, 29, of Woodbine, started going to the Wildwood site a week ago and is preparing for the pretest. She said she dropped out of school when she got pregnant. She isn’t working but would like to train for a job in nursing. She has been using the book rather than the computer.

“It’s just easier for me,” she said.

Kozek said anyone considering getting a GED certificate must first take the Test of Basic Education to determine their grade level. Only those testing at the high school level prepare for the GED, while others are placed in basic-skills classes to catch up. She suggests people attend the three-hour classes three days a week to make steady progress.

“Once a week probably won’t do it,” she said. “But someone working at the high school level probably could get the GED in a few months.”

Classes are free, funded by Workforce Investment grants through the New Jersey Department of Labor.

Dominic Bartee, 25, of Wildwood, hopes to make it through quickly. He said he dropped out of school in the ninth grade, got into some trouble and started GED classes while in jail. Now he’s out, ready for a new start and hoping to become an auto mechanic.

“I don’t want to be in there again,” he said of jail. “It really got me thinking about doing something instead of just watching life go by. My goal is to take the entire test in January.”

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