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Wichita GED programs are crammed full before 2014 changes kick in

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, at 9:22 p.m.

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The memories of December 2013 aren’t going to fade soon in the general education degree programs at two Wichita nonprofits.

The GED programs at Kansel and NextStep Alliance, a partnership between Goodwill and Wichita Area Technical College, have been running five times the number of students through the high school degree-completion program this month before the GED test changes radically in 2014.

The eight-hour test will shift from a five-section paper examination requiring “memorization and regurgitation,” said Gayle Goetz, who heads the Goodwill/WATC partnership, to a computerized four-section test of analytical thinking.

And GED students who have taken part of the current test but not all of it must finish their work and pass all of it before the end of the year or start over. Successful 2013 tests won’t count toward a 2014 computerized GED.

Kansel has processed more than 50 people through its GED program this month, far above the nine or 10 in an average month. NextStep has seen 254 people graduate this year, with 1,200 going through the program.

The GED program is administered by the GED Testing Service under the auspices of the American Council on Education.

“It’s been something else, to say the least,” said Linda Eaves, executive director of the Kansel program. “We’ve opened up extra days. We’ve done everything we can physically do to make those who want to test, test. If they’re here and they want to get it done, we want to help them through their educational journey and start their career journey.

“But this thing is no walk in the park. This isn’t a free diploma. It is a rigorous program, and it’s not simple.”

“It’s been absolutely unbelievable,” Goetz said. “Right now, we’re absolutely filled to the brim. We can test 15 people simultaneously, and we’re just now opening another session.”

And it was absolutely necessary, said a Kansel student who completed the course this fall.

“For me, I wanted to get into college,” said Chad Larsson, who starts in the computer technology program at Wichita Technical Institute in February. “It’s my best option.”

GED students are often stereotyped, said Margaret Burns, a Kansel instructor.

“The biggest misconception the public has is that all kids who drop out of high school are poor or are troublemakers,” Burns said. “Not true. We have lots of kids get to their senior year and just get sick of it. Or they’re bored.”

Others fit the stereotype: They were expelled. They had to go to work. Some were pregnant.

“Nobody learns the same way,” Burns said. “Public education has to be geared to the middle to accommodate the most kids, so those at either end are accommodated. If you’re not a logical linguistic learner, as we teach kids, then you’re not going to do well. People learn different ways, and that’s a deal here, too.”

And others have more simple reasons: Families were constantly on the move. And sometimes, kids just can’t get to school.

That was Larsson’s problem: He transferred to an alternative high school to graduate faster, then lost his driver’s license.

“Didn’t have any way to get to school, so I went to work,” he said.

This December’s GED run is a little bit of a panic reaction from students, Goetz said.

“It’s only as rigorous as high school is now,” she said. “It’s no more difficult comparatively than the test is now, but it requires a different way of approaching it, a different way of studying. It’ll be better for life skills and what the GED truly is supposed to measure, but I’d say the people in the programs now are unduly scared.”

They shouldn’t be. Just get the work done, Larsson said.

“It’s a great program that really, really helped me. I’ve already recommended it to a bunch of people,” he said.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @bwilsoneagle.

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