SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Syhiara Kimble just enrolled in South Bend schools' GED program a week ago, but she's thrilled with how much she's already learned in her classes at the Adult Education center off Bendix Drive.
"I was scared when I (first) came," she said. "My mind's been like, 'Oh my goodness.' But ooh, now I'm helping my kids with their homework."
Kimble is among a group of students in St. Joseph County who are on the fast track to completing their General Educational Development test -- a high school equivalency exam -- by the end of the year or risk starting over at square one.
In January, the state is moving to a new exam called Test Assessing Secondary Completion -- or TASC -- that will be based on more rigorous academic standards.
Joe Frank, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development -- the agency that oversees adult education in Indiana -- said the state will contract with CTB/McGraw-Hill to provide a new test to replace the GED.
"We knew we needed to go to a different high school equivalency exam," Frank told the South Bend Tribune. "Because Pearson (the GED provider) is going to an all-computer-based model and increasing price (of the test) by almost double."
Last week, Frank said the state isn't sure yet if the new test will be aligned to the Common Core standards, but it will be a bit more rigorous than the GED the first year and will increase in rigor in subsequent years.
The test will have more of a college and career focus, Frank said, and will become a standard that will be recognized by industry and the military.
The TASC exam will offer a paper-and-pencil option, he said, to ensure accessibility.
And, while specifics aren't yet available, it's expected to cost less than the new GED and perhaps even less than the fee assessed to take the current GED exam.
Greg Long, GED/ESL workforce supervisor with South Bend schools -- the designated provider of adult education in St. Joseph County -- said his department's approach to the coming test change is twofold.
"All of you who can be ready by Dec. 15 should take the (current) test," he said he and his staff advise GED students. "(We're determining) who are the students who can be fast-tracked to finish. We're going to offer new (class) configurations to help people get done."
For those students who aren't ready or don't pass the GED by the December cutoff date, Long said, his department is simply advising them to stay the course and eventually take the new test.
"Some people with core skills can be in and out of here in a couple months," he said. "We're doing everything we can to serve both groups."
Long said the new test represents a continuation of the state's drive to push adult education toward workforce and college readiness.
"I think it's part of a very logical transition," he said. "It's a good thing."
Stacey Jones is another GED student from South Bend who is on the fast track to preparing for the current high school equivalency exam.
She worked as a nurse's assistant for years before having two brain aneurysms in 2010.
When she recovered, she said, "I thought, 'This is my second chance.'"
That eventually led to her studying for a GED.
She'd like to not only become a registered nurse, but she'd also like to teach nursing classes at the college level, she said.
"Before I got sick," Jones said, "I was good where I was at."
But since that time, she's set her sights on a new career path.
Jones is confident she'll pass the GED exam by year's end, but she's hoping to do so with great scores.
Frank, from the Department of Workforce Development, said, "We really want the message to get out that folks in adult-ed now working toward the GED need to keep on course to finish the test by the end of the year."
Otherwise, "Your scores will expire and you'll have to restart the process," he said.
For those who don't pass the GED exam before January or who start taking course work too late to do so and ultimately take the TASC exam, Frank said there will be benefits, too.
"We're trying to make this exam robust and rigorous enough," he said, "... that employers would begin to see it as a true high school equivalency."
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