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Helmut Schmidt, Published December 11 2013

ND students scramble to earn GED diplomas before exams get tougher

FARGO – Things are happening fast in Keianna Gafkjen’s life.

The 16-year-old, who goes by Anna, got married Nov. 14. In January, the Fargo teen will be having a baby.

While her husband attends Woodrow Wilson High School, Gafkjen has spent the last three weeks on the second floor of the Agassiz building, studying for and taking five GED tests.

She took the last two – science and reading – back-to-back on Wednesday.

Gafkjen’s confident she passed those tests and will use her general educational development diploma to take on bigger challenges.

“I plan to go to college later on,” Gafkjen said. “I plan to do something with my life, either college or a good job.”

Gafkjen is one of a rush of people in North Dakota seeking to get their GED tests done before the end of the day Friday. That’s the state deadline for taking the current GED tests.

After Friday, unless a student can take a test in another state, North Dakotans who haven’t passed all five GED tests must start testing again in January with a new, tougher set of four tests, says Jennifer Frueh, coordinator of Fargo’s Adult Learning Center.

Since Dec. 1, 140 GED tests have been administered between the ALC and the Cass County Jail, Frueh said. As of Wednesday, 15 more tests were scheduled for today and Friday.

Normally, about 100 GED tests are administered at the Cass County Jail in a year, and perhaps 50 tests a month at the ALC, Frueh said.

“We’re a hoppin’ place,” Frueh said.

It’s been 11 years since the last update of GED tests, Frueh said. In that time, GED seekers could take years to finish.

But new tests have been created to match the adoption, in most states, of Common Core standards – a more rigorous set of kindergarten through 12th-grade academic requirements, Frueh said.

GED tests now cover math, science, reading, writing and social studies, she said. In January, the new tests will cover social studies, language arts, math and science. Writing will be embedded in each area, Frueh said.

GED seekers have been told for 18 months that the North Dakota will have an early testing deadline this year. The deadline takes into account that testing sites – public schools or colleges, such as North Dakota State University – will close for the holidays.

Tayla Henry, an 18-year-old Moorhead woman, passed her final GED test at the ALC on Tuesday.

Earning her equivalency degree didn’t come easily. Her schooling was interrupted when she became pregnant at age 15 with her daughter, Shakayla Mendez.

She tried going to Woodrow Wilson High School for a time, then she moved to Argusville to live with her mother. A lack of reliable transportation kept her out of school for much of the last two years, she said.

Then Henry learned she was pregnant again and decided she needed to get her GED for herself and her children.

Fortunately, Agassiz also houses the Even Start program, which took 2-year-old Shakayla in while Henry studied in the learning center.

“If it wasn’t for that class downstairs, I probably wouldn’t have finished this year,” she said.

Shakayla’s father gives Henry rides to Agassiz, and she takes buses back to her home.

“It feels so amazing. I was shaking” when I finished, Henry said. “I was so excited. I was just walking around the school telling everyone!”

“I was having a rough time … but I got it done,” she said.

Now, Henry’s trying to decide on a career path to pursue after her next baby is born in May.

“I can’t just sit at home doing nothing,” she said. “I got motivated and got my butt to school.”

Frueh said anyone still wishing to take a GED test or two can call the ALC at (701) 446-2807 to see if a testing time is open today or Friday.

Moorhead Community Education finished most of its GED testing last week. Since then, the agency has sent people to North Dakota State University to test.

Community Education Director Lauri Winterfeldt said a small number of people have been invited to complete their GED testing next week.

North Dakotans interested in taking the GED test in Moorhead can call Community Education to see if there are openings, Winterfeldt said. But test appointments will be made case by case, she said.

In addition, Community Education won’t do GED testing next year, Winterfeldt said. She said computer lab requirements for the updated GED tests are expensive and the computers themselves would be difficult to integrate into the Moorhead School District system. Those pursuing a GED will be referred to NDSU, she said.

GED tests can also be taken through the University of Minnesota-Crookston through Dec. 19, said Don Cavalier, the director of the school’s Career Development and Counseling Department.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583