Tag Archives: adult literacy

Is the New GED Test Too Hard? Why Aren’t More People Passing?

I’m going to start the New Year by responding to a couple of the biggest controversies in education, starting with the new GED Test. I want to hear your thoughts, too.

I’m going to get straight to the point: I like the new GED Test, for the same reasons I like the Common Core State Standards. But even with five years of development, we weren’t ready for it.

Side Note: I’m just getting acquainted with the TASC Test from CTB-McGraw Hill and HiSET Test from Education Testing Service, so I won’t comment on them yet.

My attitude hasn’t changed too much since I wrote about this two years ago. In “The 2014 GED Test and Its Impact on Adult Literacy Providers” I thought the key impacts of the new test would be:

  1. Increased program costs for technology to prepare students for computer-based testing.
  2. Students would take longer to prepare for the new exam.
  3. Increased cost for the exam will be a barrier for low income students.
  4. Programs would have to invest heavily in upgrading curriculum and instructors’ skills.

I concluded, “There is a cumulative effect of increasing testing fees, requiring technology to prepare for computer-based testing, and aligning to the CCSS. … Shifting to technology-enhanced, standards-aligned instruction will increase the long-term baseline cost of delivering GED test preparation services. Programs will require increased funding in the short-term just to maintain quality and capacity for learners. Programs will need to plan for ongoing maintenance costs for professional development, technology consultation, Internet and physical security, assessment and software licenses, and equipment and hardware updates.”

To put it plainly: GED Test preparation will require a lot more money and time to achieve the same results.

I wrote that in Spring 2013.

Am I surprised in January 2015 at the news that my predictions came true? Unfortunately no. We didn’t make the investment. Money didn’t come flowing in. We didn’t start hiring more full-time staff (77% of adult literacy instructors are part timers). It took six months into 2014 for the first Spanish-language version of GED Test prep materials to reach the market.

The big question in my mind was the degree of impact the new test would have. I have to admit it’s worse than I thought it would be. Folks who lived through one or two of the last GED Test changes reassured me that the field took a plunge for a year and then bounced back. But the news that is the plunge is steeper this year than the last change in 2002.

How long will it take us to bounce back?

Will we bounce back?

I am frustrated that adult literacy programs and funders were not able to read the warning signs, and that our field is underprepared. I can’t pin point one organization, or even one category or group that is really to blame. It is a whole systems failure: funders, employers, state and federal administrators, publishers, instructors. We dropped the ball. We did not transition gracefully.

It’s not the fault of the GED Testing Service alone, though they had their role to play. GED Testing Service showed up at every conference, conducted online surveys, did field research to answer educators’ questions, and tried to get the word out in every state. That’s when we had a chance to give our input, and to change direction. At the same time, GED Testing Service can’t change the economy, can’t make employers invest in training for entry-level workers, can’t stop the international community from having a better education system than the U.S. The GED Test has been accepted by 40 states. A whole mountain of curriculum and assessments and policy have been built up around it.

So now what?

I’m concerned that the rhetoric of failure will contribute to underfunding adult education instead of recognizing the significant investment required. We need more support, both funding and political will, to get up to speed, or really just to maintain our old speed.

Most people still don’t know the field of adult literacy exists. The general public does not understand the complexity of barriers faced by those who didn’t complete high school or have been out of the workforce for a long time. A few folks who ask what I do in adult literacy have even responded that they think low literate adults are just undeserving poor who should have taken advantage of their free public education when they were kids. Some did, some didn’t, some couldn’t, some did in other countries…it’s not that simple.

My question to you, readers, is: Who is responsible for the education of low literate adults?

I’m not asking who is to blame, but how do we inspire the investment of time, funding, and motivation necessary to improve the basic skills of adults? What do we do next with the new GED Test? Please respond in the comments with your ideas.


Filed under Adult Education, GED Test Instructors

Adult Educators’ Recommendations for Best Free Resources

It was a delight to work with adult educators to share and evaluate a smattering of the free content available out there for adult education and GED Test Prep. Participants at The Literacy Cooperative’s training organized into groups to become the Adult Education Resource Evaluation Team (AERET). After introducing 25 free websites available for Ohio adult educators (18 of those sites are free to a national audience), I sent the teams on a webquest.  They have shared their recommendations with you:

Low Level English Proficiency Learners

Our first group were professionals who serve a variety of literacy levels. Their overall finding was that there is not much out there that is intuitive and well paced for low level English readers or speakers. Almost everything requires instructional intervention.

Parameters for evaluation:

  1. Accessibility
  2. Site navigation
  3. General app look and feel
  4. Tech requirements


  1. Accessibility : Need to sign in which requires a username and Need to have an email address in order to enter the site. Need to answer a series of questions in order to enter the site.
  2. Site Navigation: The site is difficult to navigate; it doesn’t allow you to return to the previous page.
  3. Applications : The speaking part of the testing is too fast for low level learners. There are multiple ads on the page which makes it confusing for low level English.
  4. Tech Reqs: Need to have speakers on the computer to do the testing.

Gcflearnfree.org (non profit)

  1. Accessibility : No sign in for this site ; no email address needed.
  2. Site Navigation: No ads on the site but you need to have a higher level English level to understand the choices.
  3. Applications : Navigate in multiple languages to understand what to choose but there is a lot of narrative (content). There are many applications but they are scattered and difficult to navigate by technology.
  4. Tech Reqs: No special technology requirements.


  1. Accessibility : Need to sign in (register) and requires an email. You need to enter a birth date which is a personal security issue.
  2. Site Navigation: Requires that you go to your email and click a link to sign up. Once you go to the email you then have to enter additional information which is confusing.
  3. Applications : Requires you to select an avatar which is confusing and then does not allow you to move to the next level.
  4. Tech Reqs: Speakers would be nice for interaction of sound but not necessary; necessary for video component. Adobe flash needed for video component.


  1. Accessibility: No sign in required ; no security issues or email address needed.
  2. Site Navigation: The site has too many ads that could be confusing to the low level English learner.
  3. Applications: The quality of the videos is very low; not ESOL teachers on the video which allows for the use of confusing English for low level learners.
  4. Tech Reqs: Speakers and Adobe flash for video component.

NEO Literacy Corps

The next group was a team of AmeriCorps Members serving for a year in adult literacy and workforce development contexts.

We evaluated four different sites for GED preparation. It was our goal to find sites to use in our classrooms, with students ages 17-22 as well as adult learners (22+).  All sites evaluated require internet access and access to a computer with a functioning keyboard, mouse or track pad, and monitor. We analyzed the sites based on Usability and Instructional Quality. In the conclusion, we covered Cost Analysis.

Tri-C’s Math MOOC


  • the students need to know how to navigate the Blackboard Course system.
  • Accessing the system requires login
  • Facilitators would need to have taken the course themselves, as there is no instructor companion material.

Instructional Quality:

  • Student & adult learners can use website
  • Math, English, GED readiness
  • Learners use without instructor guiding

McGraw Hill Online Learning Center

[Farrell Ink’s note: Aligned to the 2002 GED Test Prep Series from Contemporary/McGraw Hill.] Websites:


  • Has a teachers guide
  • Does not require auxiliary equipment
  • Simple, logical layout and structure
  • Language arts focus on writing, but not reading comprehension.

Instructional Quality:

  • Both instructors and students can use site for language arts, math, various refreshers for GED readiness
  • Instructors can assist students with curriculum
  • Does not have to be instructor lead



  • Unappealing set up: small print, antiquated look.
  • We don’t know if signing up grants you access to automatic grading for question responses.

Instructional Quality:

  • Student based
  • This site does not give process updates, this is not instructor based



  • This site was one of the only places we could find for Reading Comprehension, which is one of the major components of the GED and one that many sites (including Khan Academy) did not specifically target.
  • Sleek, appealing layout and appearance.

Instructional Quality:

  • Reading comprehension, language arts, reading development
  • Student based but they can track their progress


With respect to analyzing cost, start-up fees are associated with any computer lab or computer based program including location (renting or maintaining available space, as well as associated utilities).  Classroom instruction fees could be incurred as well.  Maintaining the computers will require IT personnel, which may be volunteers but it is more likely that programs will pay for these services.  All of the online programs we analyzed were free to access.

Workforce Development

The final group’s target population were low-income, low-literacy un-employed or under employed adults with limited labor market attachment; individuals who need to advance towards self-sufficiency.

Costs:  Headphones for computers (if needed), paper, pens, printer


  • Low-cost/free resources for low-income and low-computer literacy users
  • Materials written at around a 6th grade level; visually appealing as well to keep users engaged
  • Sites able to blend smoothly into the job search process AND support career retention and advancement

Recommended Resources and Process:

  1. DigitalLiteracyAssessment.org
    • We will start off with an assessment of each individual’s existing computer literacy level
    • Students will be instructed on how to improve their skills, as most resume and job search is done online
    • This website has different modules that individuals can take on their own; they are scored and instruction can be tailored to the lacking skills
  2. DOL.gov’s Soft Skills to Pay the Bills
    • This site uses role play and interactive classroom-based activities
    • These can keep students engaged while teaching valuable job skills that are needed to gain and retain employment
    • The materials on the site are written at an appropriate literacy level and the printable worksheets are visually appealing
  3. TheBeehive.org
    • This site offers an excellent section on jobs
      • Includes online career coach, resume tips/examples, interviewing basics, how to dress for success, and how to find a job with a criminal background, amongst others
      • The site is well-written at an appropriate literacy level, and again is visually appealing
  4. OhioMeansJobs.com
    • At this point, we envision students registering on the website, uploading the resume, and beginning to search for jobs online
    • They can also perform WorkKeys testing, if they want to brush up on their skills
  5. The Beehive (again)
    • After obtaining employment, students can be referred back to the Beehive.com for additional supportive services
  6. Tri-C’s Math MOOC
    • Students who are interested in career pathways and advancing their education and career will be referred to Tri-C for MOOC and other classes

Thanks again to all the awesome AERET groups for their recommendations! Happy teaching, and Happy New Year!

Leave a comment

Filed under Adult Education, Education, eLearning, Free Cool Online Tools, GED Test Instructors, NEO Literacy Corps, Technology Integration

Tell Me: What Are The Skills You Need To Be An Adult Education Instructor?

Ten years ago…

I started as a volunteer adult literacy tutor at a homeless shelter and outreach center. In six months, I helped a student change from calling herself stupid to picking up the community college brochure to look at classes. My Site Manager asked me to teach a class two evenings a week. I joined the ranks of the 77% of adult literacy instructors who teach part-time with little training.

Within a couple years I became a full-time Site Manager, learning most of my teaching skills from watching other volunteers and co-workers. Eager to serve my students better, I attended a national conference organized by ProLiteracy. The workshops gave me a new perspective, connected me to the latest research, and transformed my teaching.

It has been thrilling to give back to the adult literacy community as an author, consultant, and trainer over the past few years. I have seen instructor training change lives, classrooms, and programs.

Essential Education-Learning Made CertainThis month I started a new adventure creating Social Studies materials for Essential Education. Much to my joy, I also get to work on a team developing professional development materials for adult educators! And WE WANT YOUR INPUT!


What about you?

What did you wish you knew when you started as an instructor? What workshops would/do you provide for new instructors? What skills or training improved your teaching? What professional development topics do you think have the most impact?

 If you respond by Tuesday, August 26th, I will share your comments at our team meeting, but this is an ongoing process and your comments are welcome at any time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Adult Education, Education, GED Test Instructors

TLC: 2014 GED® Test Instructional Strategies

Farrell Scholars, I’m finally bringing it home! This month I ended my recent whirlwind tour of 2014 GED Test workshops with a training for The Literacy Cooperative of Greater Cleveland. We had instructors from all over Northeast Ohio participate, from Cuyahoga to Ashtabula counties. As usual, our conversation was uniquely responsive to the concerns in the room, and we developed an interesting list of potential resources for teaching digital literacy skills. Look for that list as my next blog post!

Check out the presentation, including a new sample lesson:

Instructors worked in groups to develop their own interdisciplinary lessons. Here is the template and their scanned results:

Though this workshop was not provided through New Readers Press, The Literacy Cooperative generously raffled off five copies of Teaching Adults: A 2014 GED® Test Resource Book. Here is the newly updated book sampler, which has been fully reviewed for accuracy by GED Testing Service:

Leave a comment

Filed under Adult Education, Education, GED Test Instructors

Preparing Low Level Learners for the 2014 GED® Test

I don’t have many pictures to show for it but I greatly enjoyed my visit to Nashville, Tennessee for the USCAL Regional Conference. At the opening session, I approached a side table and sat down with three total strangers…and one turned out to be Linda Nelson! Twitter strikes again! Amazing. And of course she had brought along one of her AmeriCorps members, whom I promptly thanked for her service.

Linda and her AmeriCorps member both attended my workshop on Teaching Adults: A 2014 GED® Test Resource Book. This extended version focused on the relevance for teaching low-level learners, and gave participants a chance to create their own interdisciplinary lesson plans. Check out their creative creations  below, along with the presentation and handout. Then download the lesson plan template and make your own!

We also browsed some of the test item samplers generously provided by GED Testing Service on the website. To see the book sampler as a PDF, go to the product page at New Readers Press and click “View product.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Adult Education, Education, GED Test Instructors, Technology Integration

White Paper: 2014 GED Test and Its Impact on Adult Literacy Providers

Where did the new GED Test come from? What will it mean for adult literacy providers? How can adult learners and instructors get their voices heard about this and future changes in the educational landscape?

I answered these questions and more in ProLiteracy’s most recent white paper on the new GED test. I hope it’s helpful for you to prepare!

Leave a comment

Filed under About Farrell Ink, GED Test Instructors

New National Report on Adult Literacy Statistics

It’s grant writing season again, and this year I found myself updating local Census data, but still relying on literacy levels from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy back in 2003.  It’s been 9 years!  Like many of my colleagues, I was wondering when a new national assessment might be released.

Fellow members of ProLiteracy were able to do their networking magic and discovered that the National Center for Education Statistics is currently collecting data for an international studies that will provide data for the U.S.  This will be beneficial not only to inform policy & practice in coming years, but also to provide international benchmarks to see how the U.S. ranks among other nations.

Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies

The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is a cyclical, large-scale, direct household assessment under the auspices of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The assessment will be first administered in 2011 to approximately 5,000 individuals between the ages of 16 and 65 in each of the 27 participating countries.The goal of PIAAC is to assess and compare the basic skills and competencies of adults around the world. The assessment focuses on cognitive and workplace skills needed for successful participation in 21st-century society and the global economy. Specifically, PIAAC measures relationships between individuals’ educational background, workplace experiences and skills, occupational attainment, use of information and communications technology, and cognitive skills in the areas of literacy, numeracy, and problem solving.

In the United States, data is being collected by the National Center of Education Statistics and the study is being called the International Survey of Adult Statistics.  Though there are two different names and webpages, they are actually both the same thing.  Follow our blog to get an update when the survey results are released!

One of the fellow ProLiteracy members lamented that she felt the data from NAAL has little applicability for her practice.  Personally, I feel the investment is cost effective because it (theoretically) helps us decide as a country and community where to put our resources to create a more just and socially inclusive society.  While NAAL and PIAAC are useful for making the argument for funding of adult literacy at large, she’s 100% right that it doesn’t help us make better decisions about specific interventions.  For that kind of “practitioner relevant” research we can (and should!) look to best practices.  Look for a blog post on definitions and resources for best practices in literacy next week.

Leave a comment

Filed under Adult Education, Writing & Other Services