GED test to be offered in Spanish locally

Photos by Traci Westcott/The Herald
Jose Menjivar of Jasper works on a practice High School Equivalency exam during a Vincennes University's adult basic education English class at the Jasper Public Library Annex on Tuesday. Menjivar, originally from El Salvador, has been working on his English skills. "I want to get a better life," Menjivar said. 

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

Local adult basic education students will have the opportunity to take Indiana’s High School Equivalency Exam in Spanish for the first time this June.

Nationally, the General Education Development tests are available in English, Spanish and French, and it’s up to each state to decide in which of the three languages to offer the test. Indiana offers its version of the GED test, the Indiana High School Equivalency exam, in English and Spanish, as well as Braille, large print and audio. The test takes about nine hours and is spread over two days.

At the local level, Vincennes University oversees local adult basic education using the state’s program and will begin offering the HSE exam in Spanish in June.

The offering has already been more popular than expected.

“We were hoping to get four people whose primary language is Spanish,” said Vincennes University Jasper Campus Dean Christian Blome. “We far exceeded four, and ended up with about 10.”

The idea to offer the test in Spanish grew out of the Latino Collaboration Table’s education committee. Members of that committee were looking for ways to find a starting point for local immigrants looking to better themselves through education.

Vincennes University already offered adult basic education classes in both Spanish and English locally through VUJC, so Blome talked to Brehan Leinenbach, who teaches Vincennes University's adult English as a second language and adult basic education classes in Spanish locally. She asked her students if they would be interested in taking the Spanish version of the HSE, and many said yes.

Jose Menjivar of Jasper works on a practice High School Equivalency exam during a Vincennes University adult basic education English class at the Jasper Public Library Annex on Tuesday. 

Most of Leinenbach’s students have been in the U.S. for several years and have a handle on conversational English, which studies show takes between three and seven years to gain.

They struggle, however, with the academic English used in study materials for the HSE and on the HSE test itself. Academic English includes specialized vocabulary, particularly in the math and science sections, that isn’t used in regular conversations.

Studies show it takes non-native English speakers seven to 12 years to master English at an academic level. That’s if they’re using English in an academic setting daily.

That doesn’t mean Leinenbach’s students don’t know the material; they just struggle to communicate the information in English.

“Most of them have education from their home countries,” Leinenbach said of her students, some of whom completed university programs in their home countries before immigrating to the U.S.

But the U.S. doesn’t recognize their previous education, so they have to prove that they know the information. That’s where Leinenbach’s classes come in.

To take the HSE, all students take prep courses and practice tests, regardless of what version of the test they plan to take, and Leinenbach’s class combines ESL education with HSE test prep.

Vincennes University ESL and ABE instructor Brehan Leinenbach, left, works with a student during a Vincennes University adult basic education English class at the Jasper Public Library Annex on Tuesday.

She’s had students attempt the HSE in English — some multiple times — and not pass. They were the first ones to jump at the opportunity to get study materials and the test in Spanish. One such student is Cristina Castaneda-Cortez, 34.

Castaneda-Cortez immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in 1999 and has lived here since. She was 13 when she arrived in the U.S., but never attended school after arriving. She’s been working to get her HSE for years, but hasn’t been able to pass the test in English. Still, she keeps at it to set a good example for her two children and to earn a better life for herself and them. Her end goal is to be an engineer.

She also wants to apply for permanent residency. One of the requirements for that is to have a U.S. high school equivalency certificate.

Castaneda-Cortez is grateful to have study materials and the test in Spanish. It’s shown her that she does know the information, even if she lacks the English proficiency to communicate it. She’ll be among the first to take the Spanish version of the HSE locally in June.

“I’m crossing my fingers that I pass,” she said.

Jose Menjivar, 26, is also preparing to take the Spanish version of the HSE in June. He immigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador in 2007. He’s been taking English classes for several years and said he likes learning the language. Now, he’s pursuing the HSE because he wants a better life for himself.

“It’s hard,” he said. “But I think I’ll be OK.”

Leinenbach offers her ESL and adult basic education classes Tuesday and Thursday evenings in the Jasper Library Annex, 1103 Main St. For more information, contact Leinenbach at 812-431-6898.

Native English speakers who are interested in local adult basic education classes can contact Bethany Ballard at 812-481-5925.




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