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Northwest GED Program Turns Lives Around

Brother and sister Sarah and Nicholas Mitchell of Hernando both recently passed the GED test at Northwest Mississippi Community College. Both are now enrolled at Northwest pursuing associates degrees. Photo by LaJuan Tallo.

In January, the format of the GED test changed for the first time since 2002.
The test shifted from pencil and paper to being completely computer-based. Northwest Mississippi Community College’s Adult Basic Education (ABE) and GED Testing Division is working hard to educate the community about the new test and put a stop to any fears that might be associated with it.
Northwest is now a recognized GED test site, according to Guy Purdy, director of Adult Basic Education. There are three testing sites located at the DeSoto Center, the Senatobia campus and at the WIN Job Center in Oxford.
Purdy explained that while the old test was multiple choice, the new test is fill in the blank, short answer, extended response and some multiple choice. “The test is not necessarily harder, just more in-depth. You have to be prepared, and you really have to know what you are talking about. You cannot guess any more,” Purdy said.
According to the GED Testing website, more than 200,000 GED tests have been taken on computer, and the students are passing these tests at a rate nearly 15 percentage points higher than those taking paper-based tests.
Purdy and his staff have taken steps to prepare students to take the new computerized test by changing the way they are doing things. “Before, we were working with students one-on-one throughout the day. We began to be able to identify the areas where students needed help, so we changed our method to having small classes at set times during the day,” said Beth Little, ABE/GED transition coordinator. She explained that they schedule the classes to benefit the students who work by giving them both morning and afternoon options. “We found that the students like it better. They can ask questions and we can pair them off to work together,” Little said. Purdy added that in addition to the class time, teachers set aside time for students to work and to be able to get individual help if they need it. All of these classes are offered at no cost to the student.
Sarah and Nicholas Mitchell, a sister and brother who moved from North Carolina to Hernando both took the GED last year. Sarah took the old test and Nicholas the new, computerized version. Both passed the GED and both are now enrolled as full time students at Northwest. “It was a long day, but I passed it the first time,” Sarah said. She added the ABE teachers at Northwest will make sure students are prepared before they take the test. “If a student takes a pre-test and is struggling in a certain area, they won’t let you take the test. They will work with you through your weak areas and get you ready for the test,” Sarah said.
Nicholas agreed. “All of the pre-tests and the training they gave me prepared me for it. I came in two separate days and took it,” Nicholas said.
While the old test had five sections, there are now four sections on the computerized test: Reasoning through Language Arts (RLA); Mathematical Reasoning, Science and Social Studies. “One of the advantages is that students are in their own private cubicle. If you finish one part early, you can move right to the next part. You don’t have to wait for the proctor to allow you to move on,” Little said. She and Purdy believe that it lessens stress and anxiety for the student.
In order to pass the test, students must score at least 150 on each part. Purdy stated that the cost of the test is $30 per section for a total of $120. “Students do not have to take all of the parts of the test in one day. If they elect to take one part at a time, they can pay for each part separately. They can test three times without passing, and then there is a 60-day waiting period before the test can be retaken,” Purdy said.
Purdy and his staff’s interaction with students does not stop once they pass the GED. They follow up with students, helping them with preparing a resume, filling out job and college applications or filing for college financial aid through their “Next Step Initiative.” “We don’t just leave them after they pass the GED. We help them to the next step, whatever that may be,” Little said.
“When our students pass the GED, we encourage them to go to Northwest, get a job or go into the military,” Purdy said. He noted that students who pass the GED with a total score of 640 or more are eligible to receive Northwest’s Howard Carpenter Scholarship, which will pay one-half of their tuition at Northwest for two years.
In addition to GED preparation and testing, Northwest’s ABE division offers help for adults who may already have a high school diploma or GED but need help in a certain area for their existing jobs, or to get a job. ABE is funded through a federal grant through the Mississippi Community College Board and Northwest. They also get help from United Way for their literacy programs. “The state spends a lot of money getting our instructors prepared. We just have to get the students in to utilize these programs,” Little said. They also go into the workplace when workers need to hone their skills for a specific job. “These are usually short-term and job specific,” Purdy said.
Northwest ABE offers multiple free classes in Desoto, Calhoun, Tate, Marshall, Quitman, Panola, Lafayette and now Tunica counties. Recently, a new class started in Robinsonville in the new Tunica Training Center. ABE provides instruction in the skill areas of reading, writing, mathematics, employability, science and social studies. Classes feature individualized and group instruction. Many classes use computer-assisted learning. Instruction is conducted in schools, industries and other varied community sites. They also offer teacher-aide certification and career readiness certification.
For more information on Northwest’s ABE/GED program or the new GED test, visit the college’s website at www.northwestms.edu or contact Little at 662-562-4385. Visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/NorthwestABEGED.
LaJuan Tallo is a communications assistant at Northwest Community College.

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