California Educator

September 2014

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Learning Education trends GED By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin C L A U D I A M E J I A dropped out of high school at 15 and struggled to earn a living. Now, 12 years later, she dreams of becoming a certifi ed medical assistant and perhaps some- day a registered nurse. "I'm up for a challenge, and life is about challenges," she muses. Her biggest challenge will be passing the General Edu- cational Development (GED) test, which was recently revamped for the first time since 2002. The new high school equivalency test does away with paper and pencil. It emphasizes critical thinking through essay responses on a computer. And it's compatible with the Common Core State Standards, just implemented this year. The new GED, like the Common Core, is making some people nervous, admits Deborah Schmidt, the Fresno Adult School teacher who is preparing Mejia and others to pass the new test. "It's an adjustment," says Schmidt, Fresno Teachers Association. "Students are somewhat afraid of the new test. Teachers are increas- ing their rigor. But updating the test was a good thing. It's helping students with college readiness and career. Students must now be comfortable with a computer, so it's increasing their digital literacy. It's helping them prepare for the future." The GED was developed in 1942 to help returning World War II veterans who left school before joining the military. The equivalent of a high school diploma, the GED was suffi cient for many jobs in the industrial era, and offered a path to college. Nowadays, it's a way for dropouts to transition into careers, and still a path to college. "The GED has gotten a bad rap," she says. "But students can get into a two-year or four- year college with a GED — depending upon their SAT or ACT scores. It's much faster to earn a GED than a high school diploma. And it's a good measure of what students know and can do." The new GED has four separate tests instead of fi ve, since reading and writing are now combined. There are also science, social studies and math, which has more algebra than before. Those who passed some of the old GED tests but not the entire test must retake everything. States have adopted different versions of the equivalency test. In California, the GED Testing Service's 2014 version is being used. The High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) by the Educational Testing Service and the Test Assessment Secondary Completion (TASC) by McGraw-Hill are used in other states and were approved for California, but have not been rolled out here yet. Like the Common Core, the new GED test emphasizes prob- lem-solving. For example, a previous version of the GED might have asked students to calculate the percentage of trees cut down in a forest, but on the new test, students would receive text about deforestation and have to describe how various policies might impact deforestation. "The new test pushes you to achieve at your highest level," says Tom Fischer, a GED instructor at Chaffey Adult School in Ontario. "It requires a lot from students and is signifi cantly harder. I've seen a lot of them walking away from taking the test looking unhappy, especially if they haven't prepared well enough." Fischer, like other teachers, noticed a last-minute "rush" before January of students taking the old test before the new one took effect. Those who teach GED preparation courses echo many of the same complaints as K-12 teachers transitioning to the Common Core — they lack textbooks, technology, resources and professional development. "Teachers didn't have much stuff to pull from at first, but it's getting better," says Fischer, Associated Chaffey Teachers. "Now there are a lot more resources in multiple formats for students and teachers to pick and choose from." Finding resources has been extremely challenging for Fredy Del Aguila, who teaches GED preparation courses in Spanish at Deborah Schmidt (helping Tommy Brooks) hopes the new test will give the GED, long considered the "stepchild" of the K-12 system, the respect it deserves. Tom Fischer An old test has a new look P H O T O G R A P H Y B Y S C O T T B U S C H M A N 42

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