Nearly 600 South Carolinians earn GED certificate retroactively after passing score lowered

GED students at the Summerville Adult Learning Center take a computer-based assessment to determine which academic areas they need to work on.

When Kerri Dye took the GED last summer, she passed every section of the exam — social studies, science, language arts — with flying colors.

Except for math, which she failed by one point.

“I was surprised to be honest with you,” Dye said, laughing. The 40-year-old Cane Bay mother of two had aced the GED practice exam at Trident Literacy Association in Goose Creek. She was prepared to retake the math portion in January, when she got a call from Trident Literacy: She could stop studying. She already passed.

Dye is one of 571 South Carolinians who will retroactively earn their high school equivalency diploma after barely failing the GED since the debut of a more rigourous, computer-based version of the exam two years ago. Late last month, the GED Testing Service announced that the minimum passing score on the high school equivalency exam had been lowered in most states from 150 to 145. Anyone who scored between 145 and 149 on the exam after Jan. 1, 2014, would be eligible to receive their state’s high school equivalency certificate.

“I am pleased that these changes to the GED test and program will open new doors for South Carolina students,” said S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman in a statement last week. “Our focus is on readiness for college and careers and this is a step in the right direction for the nation and South Carolina,”

The GED, or General Educational Development exam, was overhauled two years ago to align with Common Core standards. The new, computer-only test emphasizes critical thinking and problem-solving, rather than rote memorization. The cost to take the new test is also more expensive; in South Carolina, the price nearly doubled from $80 to $150.

As a result of these changes, the number of people taking the GED across the U.S. plummeted — and the percentage who passed fell, too. In 2013, the year before the new GED rolled out, about 8,700 South Carolinians earned their GED certificate. A year later, just over 1,300 people in South Carolina took home a high school equivalency diploma — an 85 percent drop from the previous year.

“It’s always a good idea for students to be able to take and pass the GED because it opens up job opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Eileen Chepenik, executive director of Trident Literacy Association. “That’s what we’re here for — to help people become prepared for the workplace so they can rise out of poverty.”

Twenty-two-year-old Haley Jordan was two weeks shy of finishing the 10th grade when she dropped out of school at age 18. After giving birth to her son, she started looking for a job, but not even Family Dollar would hire her without a high school diploma. Jordan, who eventually found work as a groomer, started taking GED preparation classes at Trident Literacy in Goose Creek last January.

She later passed every section of the test, but she struggled with math, especially geometry. She took the math portion of the exam “five or six times” in the past year and each time, she missed the mark by a couple of points.

Then two weeks ago she got a call from the site manager at Trident Literacy’s Goose Creek location.

“I cried tears of joy,” Jordan said, “to know I didn’t have to take that test again.”

With her GED in hand, Jordan plans to enroll at Trident Technical College so she can earn her associate degree and start her own pet grooming business. She credits her 3-year-old son with motivating her to succeed.

“I really wanted to have it under my belt for him, so later I could tell him not to give up,” she said. “I want him to have that diploma because it’s big thing, even if it’s a GED.”

Reach Deanna Pan at (843) 937-5764.