Fifth who drop out face tougher GED

High school graduation rates are up to 80 percent, writes Terry Salinger on The Quick and the Ed. But the 20 percent who don’t earn a diploma face a much tougher — and more expensive — GED.

The General Education Development test (or GED) “now requires a new level of help that too few studying for the GED can get.”

The old test was a pencil and paper affair that took eight hours. The new one, the first update in more than a decade, streams in online and takes a couple of hours less. The old GED had familiar item types, like multiple choice and essays. The new one has new names: hot spot (graphic images with virtual “sensors” to plot coordinates or create models), drop-and-drag, short and long writing tasks, and cloze items (fill in the missing word).

Like the old one, the new GED assesses test-takers’ content knowledge but it also emphasizes their ability to reason in mathematics and language arts and to analyze and write about primary and secondary documents in social studies.

The new GED is aligned with Common Core standards, which are supposed to measure college readiness. (Career readiness too, but that’s an afterthought.) That sets the bar very high.

At $120, the new GED costs about twice as much.

Adult learners “need systematic, intensive, and sustained instruction by teachers with adult-learning expertise,” writes Salinger. But there’s a shortage of adult-learning teachers, classes — and dollars.

Adult charter schools offer one promising way to help more adult learners. Some of the 11 adult charter schools in Washington, DC, combine English language instruction with GED content. Two have child-development centers attached, so adult learners have close-by daycare and those aspiring to childcare careers can get some experience under their belts. In a few others, like Indianapolis and Austin, adult charter schools link to local career-training programs and colleges.

These programs offer “wraparound” social support needed by low-income students, Salinger adds. But few GED students get this kind of help.

If community colleges start turning away low achievers, there will be even more demand for adult learning centers for the 20 percent. And for the high school graduates who never really mastered high school skills.

States dump GED for rival tests

The GED got a lot harder this year to match Common Core Standards. It’s also more expensive. More states are switching to alternatives, writes Catherine Gewertz in Education Week.

Massachusetts and New Hampshire will switch HiSet, an exam developed by ETS and the University of Iowa, joining 10 other states.

New York, Indiana, and West Virginia will use CTB/McGraw-Hill’s TASC as their high school equivalency exam. In Wyoming, Nevada and New Jersey, state testing centers may use TASC if they wish.

Making the GED a test of college readiness sets the bar too high in my opinion. High school dropouts need a way to show mastery of basic skills.

‘GED machine’ includes job prep

While high school dropouts prep for the GED exam at a New York City community college, they also prepare for job training in specific fields, such as health care, business or technology. More students are passing the high school equivalency exam and going on to take college courses at LaGuardia Community College, which has become a “GED machine.”

LA’s Parent College raises expectations

At Parent College, which serves low-income Los Angeles neighborhoods, parents learn how to improve their children’s college prospects, reports  PBS NewsHour.

Nadia Solis, a single mother and high school dropout, spends one Saturday each month during the school year at Parent College learning about learning. Her children attend 99th Street Elementary, one of the 17 low-performing schools now managed by the nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.

The Partnership invests 10 percent of its budget on family and community engagement. Test scores are rising.

One day, Solis told her daughter to study hard so she could go to college.

SOLIS: Her answer to me was, if you didn’t finish high school, why are you telling me? Well, what is this that I have to do it?

I just gave her a simple — a simple answer of, well, I just couldn’t. But the minute that I had Parent College the next week, it was my first question to my teacher: What can I do to get my GED?

Solis has earned her GED.

Collegebound can’t opt out of Common Core

Common Core Standards will affect homeschoolers when their children apply to college, writes Paula Bolyard in PJ Lifestyle. Without traditional academic credentials, homeschooled students need strong SAT or ACT scores.

David Coleman, a “lead architect” of the Common Core, is now president of the College Board, which designs and administers the SAT and AP (Advanced Placement) tests. He plans to “redesign the SAT, transforming it from an aptitude test intended to control for varying levels of school quality, to a knowledge test aligned with the Common Core,” reports The Atlantic.

The ACT, which describes itself as “an active partner with the Common Core State Standards Initiative,” also plans to revamp their tests, notes Bolyard.

If your homeschooled children plan to go to attend college some day, the way things currently stand, they will be tested on Common Core “achievements and behavior.” That means you may need to consider altering your curriculum to align with the standards.

Alignment of the SAT, ACT and GED exams to Common Core “poses new questions about the extent to which states, private schools, and homeschooled students will be compelled to accept national standards and tests,” writes Brittany Corona on Heritage Foundation’s The Foundry

Even in states that do not sign on to Common Core, schools could find themselves having to align content with Common Core material in order to ensure student success on the SAT or ACT—something that could affect private schools.

The GED is “sometimes used by homeschoolers to demonstrate content mastery,” Corona writes. The new version of the test “could pull homeschoolers into the Common Core web.”

Michael Farris, co-founder of Home School Legal Defense Association, told Coleman (in a polite conversation): “Just because you have a good idea (homeschooling in my case, Common Core in his case), it doesn’t mean that it is appropriate to force everyone in the country to follow your idea. And that is my central problem with the Common Core and all forms of centralized educational planning.”

Is the new GED too hard?

The GED exam will be harder in 2014, reports the Bay Area News Group. Maybe too hard. The new four-part test, which will be taken on computers, is aligned with Common Core’s college and career readiness expectations.

The new exams are designed to better prepare students for vocational training, college or careers by testing the skills employers are looking for now, said Armando Diaz, spokesman for the GED Testing Service.

There will be fewer multiple choice questions and more questions that “require test-takers to read longer passages and show understanding by defending opinions in short answers or essays.”

I wonder if the new test is too difficult. Here’s a sample social studies question for the 2014 exam:

Excerpt: “There would be an end to everything, were the same man, or the same body, whether of the nobles or of the people, to exercise those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and of trying the causes of individuals.”

Based on the excerpt, which important principle held by America’s founders did Montesquieu help shape?

A. Wider participation in government is essential to democracy.
B. Government will fail unless it performs a variety of functions.
C. Divisions of powers within government are necessary to prevent abuses.
D. Government power should be shared among the different classes of society.

(Option C is correct. The excerpt states the belief that concentrating all governmental power in one person or group would be very detrimental to a society.)

Go here for more on the new exam.

Only 12 percent of GED recipients go on to earn any other credential, GED officials say. They want the GED to be rigorous enough to be the first step to a vocational credential and a decent job. But it’s going to be a high step.

It’s possible to be stumped by Montesquieu but capable of  learning how to weld, cut hair or drive a truck. The GED is most useful as a minimum qualifications, not as an indicator of college readiness. If it’s too hard, a lot of people will give up.

Denver remediates collegebound grads

Denver Public Schools is providing free remedial math and English classes over the summer for collegebound graduates. One summer student failed the placement test at the University of Colorado-Pueblo, despite earning a 3.1 grade-point average in high school.

After dropping out of high school in ninth grade, Krista LeBrun earned a GED at 17 — and kept going till she got a PhD.

More teens drop out, take GED

Letting high-school-age teens take the GED encourages dropouts, some economists and educators fear. A quarter of GED test-takers are 16 to 18 years old, reports the Washington Post. They’re passing up a high school diploma for a much less valuable credential: GED holders earn as little as dropouts who didn’t pass the test and very few go on to earn a higher degree.

“We are making it easy for them to make a mistake,” said James Heckman, a Nobel-Prize winning economist at the University of Chicago.

If cognitive skills were enough, people who demonstrate high school equivalence by passing the GED would perform equally well in the workplace or in college, he said. Instead, dropping out of high school usually portends a lifelong pattern of dropping out, he said. Studies shows high school dropouts have higher rates of job turnover, college attrition, turnover in the military and even divorce, compared with those who stuck it out in high school.

“Sitting in school and showing up on time and doing in school what people ask you to do — those are useful, if dull, tedious traits to have,” Heckman said.

The GED isn’t easy: To pass, test takers must outperform about 40 percent of graduating seniors. It’s being revised to conform to Common Core Standards, which is expected to make it harder.

GED + job training = motivation

In Louisiana, undereducated and underemployed adults can train for skilled jobs while studying for a GED at a technical college. Most Work Ready U students are training for jobs in construction trades, welding or health care.

Some community colleges are helping veterans get college credits for skills they learned in the military, such as giving a combat engineer credit for construction management skills.

Cutting to the core on scores

In the era of Common Core State Standards, all high school graduates are supposed to be ready for college or careers. That means the new tests must measure grade-level readiness in every grade, writes Checker Finn on Gadfly. Setting cut scores — how good is good enough? — will be difficult.

State officials fear “soaring failure rates, and not just among the poor and dispossessed,” Finn writes.

. . .  about half of eighth graders with college-educated parents fail to clear the “proficient” bar on NAEP. If (as mounting evidence suggests) “NAEP proficient” is roughly equivalent to “college ready,” and if the new assessments hew to that level of rigor and honesty, many millions of American youngsters will be found unready—and millions more will learn that they’re not on track toward readiness. Such a cold shower should benefit the nation over the long haul, but in the short run, it’s going to feel icy indeed.

Finn favors setting multiple passing levels, such as NAEP’s advanced, proficient and basic.  And, at least in the transition period, states will need to offer two levels of high school diploma rather than expecting everyone to meet the college-ready level.

He raises more questions about how Common Core testing will work. Will colleges and employers accept young people who’ve passed these tests as “ready” for college-level classes and skilled jobs? Does anyone know how to define “career readiness?” Will the GED be aligned to CCSS tests? What about credit-recovery programs?

In Getting Ready for Common Core Testing, Diane Ravitch posts a quiz question that a reader’s seven-year-old son got wrong.

Kings and queens COMMISSIONED Mozart to write symphonies for celebrations and ceremonies. What does COMMISSION mean?

A. to force someone to do work against his or her will
B. to divide a piece of music into different movements
C. to perform a long song accompanied by an orchestra
D. to pay someone to create artwork or a piece of music

It’s not clear who wrote the quiz or whether the second graders has read a story about Mozart. But I have to agree with the boy’s parent: Expecting second graders to understand “commission” (or “symphonies” with “movements”) is “nutso.”

Teachers are test experts, writes Arthur Goldstein, who teaches English to immigrant students in New York City.

A large part of my job entails assessing the progress and motivation of my students. And I do, in fact, write tests. I’d argue that my tests are far better than those designed by the city or state. This is at least partially because I cater my tests to the needs and abilities of my students and give them as my students need them, not on wholly arbitrary dates determined by the Board of Regents.

New York City teachers are sent to different schools to grade exams, so they won’t inflate their students’ scores, Goldstein writes. “If I can’t be trusted to design tests and I further can’t be trusted to grade them, I ought not to be teaching. If the state feels that we teachers are so incompetent and untrustworthy it ought to fire us all en masse.”