Best Practices in Corrections: GED Testing

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This afternoon’s session on Best Practices for Corrections collected insights from states where incarcerated individuals are passing the GED Test at the same or higher rates than those taking the test outside of an institution: Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Wisconsin, and Arkansas. This is not typical, because in most states test takers in Corrections are not performing as well as those outside.

My big take away from this session is that implementation matters. This is particularly true when it comes to preparing and supporting instructors. When all other variables are equal (i.e. GED Test content, testing center requirements) you get very different outcomes under different conditions and leadership.

Before diving into their stories & suggestions, a quick note that GED Testing Service also announced that they are offering an offline version of GED Ready for Corrections facilities that cannot implement it online. I won’t go into detail, but for those in this position, it’s an important side note.

If you are a Corrections facility using the offline GED Ready, you can indicate the publisher materials you are using and get print-outs of the GED Ready correlations provided by the publisher.

GEDTS also shared their recent poll of Corrections educators about best practices they use in GED Test Preparation. Top responses:

1) Practice with the calculator in class.
2) All teachers take the GED Ready.

So big picture, the message of today’s session was that Corrections can implement the new computer-based HSE exams and do it well.

Back to the stars of the show: Oregon, Arkansas, and Colorado (WA and WI were highlighted, but not in the session I attended). I found their success stories inspiring and practical!

In some ways, these states are very different.

Colorado started to prepare well in advance of the 2014 changes by creating a task force with buy-in from all levels of stakeholders.

Oregon was slower off the blocks and first brought everyone together for a GED Summit in October 2014. It was hugely successful and they are planning for 2015 already.

Arkansas’ strategy was to approach teachers and ask: what do you need to make this work? Teachers wanted smart boards and new (though offline) computers in each class, and to research their own preferred materials. They got it.

With three different approaches, they all managed to achieve higher than average outcomes. The themes I see emerging here are coordination and bringing people together to develop shared solutions.

Despite their different scenarios, the states had some common tactics that any adult education program should consider when implementing a new test, technology, curricula, etc:

1) Make educators have the student experience.

In this case, the states encouraged the teachers to take the GED Ready itself to become familiar with the exam. In some cases, they actually asked nervous teachers to FAIL the test in order to see what the score report looks likes. Anything to get them in the hot seat!

2) In-person networking and Professional Development.

‘Nuff said.

3) Incentivizing completion.

In both Colorado and Arkansas, inmates can get days off either their sentence or parole if they earn their GED credential. In the case of Colorado, the money saved from these time cuts go right back to the Corrections Department of Education, so it’s a win-win situation.

4) Can-do attitude!

Every state emphasized that with the proper professional development and a voice in the process, educators felt competent and even enthusiastic about the new changes. But that comfort only came after becoming familiar with the details of the changes and having sometimes difficult conversations about the necessary next steps.

I walked away thinking that these tips are useful not only for Corrections administrators, but any adult educator or administrator responding to the rapid and substantive changes impacting adult education today.

What are some best practices you are using and encountering to aid adult education programs in transition?

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