Want to earn your GED?

The following Lowcountry agencies or groups can help:

Berkeley County School District Adult and Community Education in Moncks Corner: 899-8703.

Charleston County School District Office of Adult Education in North Charleston: 746-6500.

Dorchester County Adult and Community Education in Summerville: 873-7372.

Trident Literacy Association in North Charleston: 747-2223.

One goal has driven Adriane Takeall for the last three years: earning her GED.

She’s passed four of the five parts on the high school equivalency exam, and only one more section, math, remains. It always has been her worst subject.

The sense of urgency the 49-year-old feels to pass the test is ramping up. If she doesn’t, her past scores will be erased and she’ll have to pass a new, tougher, computer-based GED test.

“That would crush me,” she said. “I’m really trying to get it done right now so I can have it behind me.”

The GED test will change on Jan. 2, and some educators are urging those who want a GED to take the test before then. Why? The new GED will be offered only on computer, so a paper and pencil test won’t be an option anymore. The test also will be harder in that it will require more writing and applying knowledge. And it will cost more than the paper and pencil version.

Changing the way the test is administered might be a challenge for some older students who lack computer skills, officials said. Some can’t type well enough to write essays, while others don’t know how to perform basic computer tasks such as dragging and dropping.

It’s too early to say what the deadline will be for South Carolina residents who want to take the current test version, but officials warned of a potential last-minute rush and a limited number of spots.

“For those people who have some concerns, we are encouraging them not to wait, because as we get closer to December, the (testing) seats will be gone faster,” said David Stout Jr., director of the Office of Adult Education for the South Carolina Department of Education.

Computer-based test

Stout’s office is tasked with overseeing the state’s GED testing; preparation programs can be offered by community-based organizations or school districts, but the state education department controls the administration of the exams.

State GED examination teams travel to sites statewide to give the paper and pencil tests, but they don’t have to do that with the computer-based testing. That’s significant because some sites only would be visited twice a year, whereas computer-based testing centers can offer the test as much as they like.

“It gives them a lot more flexibility (to test), and people don’t have to wait until the state is coming to town,” Stout said.

Thus far, 26 adult education programs have been approved to offer at least one computer-based testing site, and 15 others have submitted applications to do so. That amounts to more than 80 percent of the state’s 50 adult education programs being in some stage of becoming approved. Stout’s goal is to have at least one computer testing center in every county by January, and ideally more than one in areas with bigger populations, such as Charleston.

The remaining nine adult education programs have not submitted applications. Stout said some are in rural areas, where their adult education program is housed in a mobile unit that is inadequate for computer-based testing.

“We’re going to get the ball rolling and slowly improve to have the state totally covered,” he said.

The test isn’t offered online – it’s downloaded to the computer at the testing site – so Internet access for rural areas shouldn’t be an issue, he said. Some scams falsely advertise that the GED can be taken online; it can’t, he said.

“You have to go to one of our facilities,” Stout said.

In the Lowcountry, Summerville is home to what Stout described as one of the state’s biggest and premier GED testing centers, and Berkeley also has been approved for computer-based testing. Charleston hasn’t, but Cathy Godshall, adult education facilitator for the Charleston County School District, said that should happen by January. The adult education program will be moving into the former Brentwood Middle building.

Most school districts already have the computers needed to do the testing, so the switch didn’t require a significant purchase. Some are using computer labs that can be converted to testing sites once or twice a week, Stout said. The state has sent each computer-testing approved site $2,000 to help cover costs needed to secure the room.

A harder test

Those issues aside, the content of the test is changing, and it’s not getting any easier. It will be more writing and fewer multiple-choice questions, and it’s based on the Common Core State Standards, which are the new English/language arts and math requirements for what students in grades K-12 must know. The standards require students to apply information they’ve learned.

“The actual test is more rigorous and more difficult than it is now, so the teachers will have to prepare a little bit differently to prepare students for those changes,” Godshall said.

Stout remembers 2002, when the test last changed and the same things were said. He expects the state’s pass rate of 72.1 percent to dip for a few years while teachers get used to the new content. That’s what happened after 2002, but the state’s pass rate now exceeds the national average of 69.1 percent.

“Every time there is change coming, people are usually anxious,” he said.

The computer test also will be more expensive than the paper and pencil exam. To take all five of the GED tests with paper and pencil costs $80; taking them on a computer costs $150. The new test will cost $150.

“The majority of individuals still are preferring (to take the) paper and pencil, and if I had to hazard a guess as to a reason, it’s because of the cost disparity,” said Julie Anne Kornahrens, the director of Dorchester County adult and community education. “We have had several individuals who have signed up to take the computer-based test but it has not been in the volume that was anticipated.”

Takeall’s test

Takeall, who lives in Ladson, dropped out of school in the middle of her junior year.

“Young, dumb and crazy,” she said of her former self. She started following the crowd and cutting classes, and she decided to quit after her guidance counselor said she would have to go to school six months longer than her classmates to earn her diploma.

“I didn’t want to hear that,” she said. “I always knew this would come back to haunt me.”

She went to work, but the jobs she had were never ones she wanted, until her most recent job. She worked for nine years in the shipping department of a lighting company in Goose Creek, but she got laid off in 2009.

“I knew that if I wanted to get a job that was paying me (well) and offering me insurance, I knew had to have a GED,” she said.

She started studying for her GED in 2010 at the Dorchester County adult education center in Summerville. She used to feel embarrassed when she saw her young classmates, but she never forgot what one of her teachers said, “If you don’t use it, you will lose it.”

She suffers from test fright, which she describes as her brain shutting down. She panics and fidgets and then guesses through questions without thinking. But the more she tests, the more confident she feels, she said.

She has to score a 430 to pass the math test, and her most recent score was a 400. Just 30 more points.

She’s at the adult education center most days of the week, and she wants to set a good example for her 14-year-old son. She recently told him about how she quit school, and she doesn’t want him to make the same mistakes.

After the GED, she said she probably will pursue more education and training. Maybe she’ll take some medical assisting classes at Trident Tech. And she wants to work.

“I have to believe that if (I don’t pass this year) and it works out that way, the Lord has something else in store for me,” she said.

It’s just 30 points between her and a new life.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.