Five volunteers in the Garnet Career Center were the first people in West Virginia to take GED tests on a computer rather than by using pencil and paper.
Garnet is the first General Educational Development testing location in the state to offer a computer-based version of the test. West Virginia is only the 15th state to offer GED tests in electronic format.
The switch to computers at Garnet is part of a pilot program undertaken by the state Department of Education in conjunction with Pearson VUE, the company that operates the electronic version of the GED, and GED Testing Services, which actually creates the test.
"We're very excited because this is proof that we're being as progressive with adult education . . . as high school education," said Debra Kimbler, the state GED administrator with the West Virginia Department of Education.
The department has a goal of switching all GED testing in the state to the computer format by January 2013. That goal is part of a larger, national change to the GED itself, which is set for January 2014, at which point all GED tests must be taken on a computer, with a few exceptions.
When the new version of the test begins in 2014, all scores from the latest version of the GED will expire, and GED students must start over.
The GED is currently composed of five subject tests, which, if passed, certify that the student has high school-level skills. The 2014 version of the GED updates the test to adhere to the "Common Core Standards," which are national guidelines for high school education.
One issue with the electronic GED is that test-takers may not be as computer-savvy as current high school students.
Jim Vickers, who recently retired as principal at Garnet and is a proctor for the new GED, said all five of the students who took the test last Thursday passed, but they were young.
"A lot of our clientele is older . . . or out of education for a long time," Vickers said. "We're worried about their computer skills."
Garnet is helping to ease that problem through the incorporation of computer skills in its adult education program. In addition, West Virginia requires GED students to take a practice exam, which can be on a computer.
Kimbler said the practice test also helps students familiarize themselves with the format of the actual test. She said the computer skills needed for the exam are similar to those required by employers.
"(The test) is preparing them for the computer world," she said. "We have adult basic education that will prepare students to take the test."
Kimbler said an advantage of the electronic version of the GED is students will instantly know how they scored, and the test can also provide data on a student's strong and weak areas, which can in turn be used to help educate the student and plan career moves.
"I think that the major change is score reports," she said. "It lets (students) know their strengths in addition to areas where they need to . . . brush up on skills."
There is a testing fee for the GED, and the cost varies from state to state. Kimbler said in West Virginia, the current fee for all five tests is $50, but that fee will increase to $120 with the electronic version. A small part of that fee goes to the testing site, which pays for the proctors.