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Going back for GED’s made a little easier

Any teenager who thinks dropping out of high school and earning a GED (General Educational Development) diploma is preferable to sticking it out until graduation, think again, says Detroit Lakes Adult Basic Education Coordinator Amy Fish, who oversees the local GED testing program.

“It isn’t any easier,” she says. “The testing is very rigorous, and difficult to pass. There are a lot of other benefits to staying in school as well.”

Harley (real name withheld at his request), a 56-year-old truck driver who is faced with the possibility of a late life career change due to injuries sustained in a serious traffic accident earlier this year, agrees with Fish’s assessment.

“I didn’t just walk out of high school 40 years ago – I ran!” he joked. “I really regret now that I didn’t turn around and run right back, especially as I see how important it is to have a diploma if you want to get a decent job.”

“You can’t get anywhere without it,” agreed fellow ABE student Kimberly Benke, who like Harley, is working toward passing her GED tests.

For most of his career, Harley has been pulling down a pretty healthy salary – he was making $75,000 a year before his accident – by specializing in the transportation of hazardous materials.

Though he hopes to go back to his job after he’s finished with rehabilitation therapy, he’s not sure he will be able to – which is why he’s working toward his GED now.

“To find a decent job, that’s the first step,” he says, “and even if I do go back to the job I had before, it will make me feel better about myself to have it.”

“He’s one of our star students,” Fish said.

Not that it’s easy, Harley admits. “I’m looking at stuff I never saw in school 40 years ago,” he said. “It’s very difficult.”

“It’s not an easy thing (passing the GED tests) by any means,” Benke agreed, adding that she has noticed the educational standards have gotten tougher with regard to her daughter’s education as well.

“She’s learning things in kindergarten that I learned in third grade!” Benke exclaimed.

But some recent changes to the GED testing standards have eased the path toward earning that diploma, Fish said.

Pearson Vue, the company that administers the GED tests, has lowered the passing score from 150 to 145 points in all four testing areas – reasoning through mathematics, reasoning through language arts, social studies and science.

“Five points might not seem like a big deal, but on a standardized test like this, it makes a big difference,” said Fish.

“It’s going to help a lot,” Benke said. “It’s lowered my anxiety quite a bit. I actually wouldn’t be ready to take the tests yet otherwise.”

Fish also noted that the lower passing grade was made retroactive, which means that anyone who received a score of 145 or higher on a GED test administered after Jan. 1, 2014 will have their testing status changed to “passed.”

“One of our students just graduated because of the standards change,” Fish said. “She was just two or three points off when she took each test, so now she’s a graduate. The changes took effect March 1, so her diploma should have been mailed to her on Thursday.”

Other changes to the GED testing program that were recently implemented involve the cost of both the official tests and the practice tests. Pearson Vue is currently offering 50 percent off “GED Ready,” the official practice test for the GED program.

“All of our classes are free, but there are charges for both the practice tests and the official tests,” Fish said. “The practice tests are normally $6 each, but from now through the end of March, they will be $3.”

In addition, the Minnesota State Legislature has authorized the Minnesota Department of Education to pay for GED testing statewide.

“Minnesota GED students will be able to take their first official GED test in each subject for free – at least until the money runs out,” Fish said. “That’s a $160 value, as each test normally costs $40.”

“That’s huge,” Benke admitted. “I can’t really afford $160 – I have to pay rent!”

Subsequent tests will have to be paid for by the student, but having the first test paid for in each subject area “is a big deal” for ABE students, Fish said, whether they are at the start of their working career, like Benke, or in the process of a late-life career change, like Harley.

“It’s only been available for about two weeks, and we’ve already had five students use it (the free testing),” she added.

“We’ve been calling all of the students who have started GED classes to tell them, ‘Now is the time,’” Fish said, because funding for the free tests is not unlimited.

“If you are considering getting your GED for whatever reason, don’t wait!” she added. “Our best guess is the funding will be available until mid-June, but there are no guarantees.”

Once someone makes the decision to get their GED, Fish said, they will be asked to come into the ABE office, located on the campus of M State in Detroit Lakes, to determine whether they need to take classes for GED testing preparation.

“We do assessments in reading, math, language arts, career planning and computer skills, then set up an individualized plan for each student so that they will be ready to take the tests and hopefully, pass on the first try.”

For more information about GED testing, and the ABE program, please call 218-844-5760, send an email to, or visit the website at and click on the Adult Basic Education tab on the left side of the page.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454