Missouri's Adult Education and Literacy programs, including the one based in Maryville, will face some big changes beginning in January 2014.
That may seem like a far-off date, but for some adults and high-school-age youth looking to pass their General Education Development Test, better known as the GED, time is running out.
The tests are given monthly, but preparation time can be lengthy, especially for those with learning disabilities or special needs.
The exact changes that will occur are still unclear, but what is known is that the national standard GED will no longer be in place.
States will soon be able to choose vendors to develop and regulate the tests, which could cause difficulties for adults and young people pursuing the GED option over a high school diploma.
"The challenge I see is that every state is going to choose their own vendor," Maryville AEL Director Linda Stephens said. "That is different than it has ever been before. I can see problems developing with bordering states and people who relocate."
Each state's education department will be able to set its own standards. The question remains whether credits and scores earned in Missouri will be honored elsewhere.
Stephens has been reviewing information on GED Testing Services sent to her by the state. But there are many vendors out there ready to enter the high school equivalency business.
Essentially the GED system will change from a non-profit government entity into a for-profit operation. Stephens anticipates the shift will result in a more difficult examination.
She said the new requirements will be aligned with Missouri's kindergarten-through-12th grade common core standards regardless of which vendor is chosen.
Standards for the current test were last changed in 2002. To establish a "norm," 10,000 graduating seniors took the exam. Then the difficulty was increased until 40 percent of the students failed, making the test a close reflection of the knowledge level required to earn a diploma.
Since that time, core standards in high schools across the country have changed drastically, while the GED has remained the same.
The goal of the change is to align the test with the expectations of employers and universities.
Stephens said all of the competing vendors pose advantages and disadvantages. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education expects to make a decision by January 2013 after reviewing bids.
Exactly what will happen then is uncertain, including the cost to students. GED Testing Services plans to charge $140 in application and testing fees, compared to AEL's current fee of $40.
"My advice to those who need their GED but haven't started is to begin now," Stephens said. "Don't wait until the last minute, get prepared now, just in case you need to re-take it."
Page 2 of 2 - But that isn't the only reason Stephens is encouraging people to take the test as soon as possible.
It is likely that the new test will be computerized, which poses a challenge for those who lack computer literacy and keyboard skills, she said. Also, costs could go up if AEL is forced to incorporate computer skills into its curriculum.
In addition to its Maryville office on the campus of Northwest Missouri State University, AEL has satellite classrooms in Tarkio, Albany and Stanberry, none of which are equipped with computers. The agency covers a five-county area in northwest Missouri, and two locations were shut down last year due to low enrollment and budget cuts.
With a staff of 18, AEL also provides services to inmates at the Maryville Treatment Center, which is part of the Missouri Department of Corrections.
Altogether the organization serves roughly 500 clients a year, about 100 of them at Northwest. Each year roughly 85 percent of those students pass the GED.
The Maryville AEL is open from 8 a.m. until noon Monday through Friday, and from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Students begin by taking an assessment to determine what skills they need to work on. Clients set their own schedule and work at their own pace. To sign up for instruction, call AEL at (660) 582-5615.
"I really encourage anyone who has thought about getting their GED to come see us as soon as possible," Stephens said. "We don't know exactly what these changes will bring, and that's frustrating. But we know that it is not going to get any easier."