It’s 2016, and the world of adult education continues to fluctuate! Obtaining a High School Equivalency (HSE) diploma is the goal of most adult education students. But what does it really take to earn that credential?
Starting in 2014, the GED Test changed significantly to align with the Common Core standards and skills of high school graduates. We now have two additional HSE exams–TASC and HiSET–which are changing each year to gradually become more computer-based and aligned to the Common Core standards.
So in five minutes or less, what are the key things you need to know about recent test changes as of January 2016?
I’ll start with HiSET because their content change is perhaps the most drastic. The HiSET Language Arts, Writing Essay is keeping its 6-point scoring, but changing the prompts and rubric. Test takers are now required to read TWO passages on a topic, and use evidence from both sources to create an argumentative essay.
With this change, all three HSE Tests now require that test takers correctly use evidence from a given passage to support an argument. Regardless of the test(s) available in your state, prospective test takers and adult educators need to focus on developing these skills.
In 2015, CTB (the company that produces TASC) switched hands from McGraw Hill to Data Recognition Company (DRG). The switch resulted in staff changes, contract changes at the state level, changes for testing centers…all things that impact where and when test takers can access the exam. As more states add multiple tests, this actually may result in more people taking the TASC test.
In 2016, TASC introduced short answer items. The Language Arts, Writing Part 1 exam now includes short answer responses that ask the test taker to do one of two things:
Combine two sentences into one new sentence.
Write an appropriate concluding sentence for a paragraph.
I saved the largest HSE Test for last because this is actually a recent announcement of a future change. Starting March 1, GED Testing Service is changing its cut scores. Depending on each state, this may result in 25,000-30,000 previous GED Test Takers who scored between 145-149 to earn their HSE diploma! Read full details at Education Week.
Sometimes I use my job as a Mom as an excuse to test out adult education lessons. Recently I bought some geometric solids made for a Montessori lesson. This lesson is intended to be taught to 3-6 year olds, but adult students can benefit from a refresher on the names of these objects. And I ended up learning something really important about math in the process.
I love the Montessori method for hands-on learning, because it focuses on putting stuff in front of someone, then explaining what it’s called and what it can do. The introduction is a structured presentation, but then you let kids do what they naturally do: play with stuff. Montessori purists will call this a child’s “work.”
I started by asking what makes certain blocks easier to stack on each other. The answer is that they have similar shapes on the bottom, called the base. I asked them to trace a base on paper to see that the shapes are the same. Then they wanted to cut them out, just for an excuse to use scissors.
Next I asked how many names of the shapes they already knew, and we discussed some new words. This is where things got really interesting, because again the kids started to see patterns before I even mentioned it. I drew an oval to show that the shape that looks like an oval is an ovoid. A shape that looks like an ellipse is an ellipsoid. We still couldn’t agree which was the potato or the egg.
Then my son drew a surf board. “And a surfoid!” my five-year-old proclaimed.
Sure! Surfoid. Why not?
This is where math can get really fun. Though Montessori’s methods are a century old, they have a lot of parallels with Common Core Math that parents are complaining about (another reason we hate it might be because over 55% of adults in the U.S. can’t do 4th grade level math). Why is this so different than the math most U.S. adults learned growing up?
Math like this shows us that geometry is just a way to describe the world around us. Instead of providing abstract equations to memorize with one right or wrong answer, we learn how to recognize patterns and use tools to manipulate our world using words and numbers. And when we learn to use mathematical tools instead of memorize equations, that’s when we learn how to create surfoids. That’s when math becomes play.
This afternoon I got to experience one of the new professional development workshops GED Testing Service is rolling out this year. All About Scoring guides teachers on the criteria to score constructed responses on the GED Test.
Since the need for this kind of training is high, I was particularly interested in their format, tools…and how the presenters handle some of the sticky questions that educators ask me in similar sessions.
So I cordially threw out my most popular Extended Response FAQs and thought you’d be interested in the answers straight from GEDTS:
“Spelling is not scored on this rubric. But how can the computer pick up the keywords?”
I always get this question, and it comes from educators who were in K-12 when they started implementing computer-based testing. At that time, test takers quickly learned how to game the automated scoring with templates and keywords.
The GEDTS folks assured us: there are no keywords.
At this point in the workshop, my participants tend to look like Neo from The Matrix when he learns “there is no spoon.”
How is this possible?
GEDTS emphasized that the new automated scoring rubric was trained by thousands of sample responses graded by real humans, much like Watson the Super Computer learning to play Jeopardy. The scoring system learned to look for “a constellation of errors and qualities” in writing, not the “right answer.” The technical term for what the computer is doing is latent semantic analysis.
Basically, the computer can read like you do: looking for an adequate explanation of a concept using related terms. But using numbers.
This is Artificial Intelligence, folks. No joke. We’re living in the movie 2001. In 2015.
But there is a human back up system. If the computer can’t figure out the scoring, it gets spit back out for a human. If a test taker disputes a score, a human handles it. And humans regularly audit a selection of responses just to make sure the system is working properly.
So there are things the computer can’t do, but one thing it definitely won’t be looking for is keywords. We’ve come a long way since the first computer-based scoring in K-12, technologically speaking. If a student can game the automated scoring system, we’ve found the next Tony Stark, and we should worry about him or her hacking the Pentagon.
“But what about templates? What structure should I teach my students so they can pass?”
I’ll defer here to some direct quotes from the GEDTS trainers’ response:
There are no templates.
Ideas should drive the structure, not structure drive the ideas.
Using formulas for writing gives our students permission to check their brains at the door and not do the work we’re asking them to do.
The 2002 GED Test couldn’t handle good writing. Good writing doesn’t conform to the template of mediocre writing. We can celebrate really good writing by using the scoring tools.
“Who are the ‘subject matter experts’ quoted in the GEDTS scoring guide materials?”
Interesting back story: After collecting the thousands of sample responses, GEDTS participated in a process called Range Finding. This process involved real adult educators talking about how they would score the responses and why they would give certain scores to figure out the range for each score in the rubric. It took a few weeks. During the sessions the GEDTS Content Manager (not her real title) listened in, and quoted the educators for the guide.
There are no magic, elite subject matter experts driving these scores. They were real educators having conversations about scoring.
The goal of the workshop All About Scoring is that after enough practice with these scoring tools, you, too, can be a GEDTS scoring expert.
GEDTS has provided GED Marketplace for potential test takers to access & purchase study materials. Until now they have only required compliance with their trademark and copyright policies, and have decided to implement a content review process.
It is important to note that while they want this process to benefit the adult education community, 70% of test takers study independently. The GEDTS content review process is only going to cover whether the curriculum has 100% coverage of the GED Test Assessment Targets. It will not measure additional factors important to institutional purchasers like reporting features, technology requirements, or training and customer support.
Publishers must opt in to the process by paying for their own review through the 3rd party evaluator ProCert. The audience was assured that GED Testing Service is not making a dime in the process and the amount is not a financial burden.
Each book, online course, or other curriculum product will be independently reviewed for its coverage per subject. Anything that does not provide full coverage will have 6 months to remediate. “Other” materials (like practice test) will not be required to review, but will also not be eligible for the content-aligned stamp of approval.
Publishers who do not opt to participate will not be included on the GED Marketplace or be eligible to sell GED Ready vouchers. Publishers will need to go through the process again if they undergo a major change (like translating from English to Spanish, or Essential Education’s recent transition to our new website, doubling our content).
Participation and results will not be revealed until October 2015. Content will be indicated in the GED Marketplace as “Other,” in progress, or reviewed and aligned.
In both sessions, I focused on enduring issues as a way to engage students in the Great Conversation. Enduring issues are questions that societies have to answer over and over again, and may be particular questions that are the focus of social discussion. Having a voice in that conversation is civic participation, which is one of the most important goals of our civics and social studies curricula.
If you’re at the COABE Conference 2015 in Denver, Colorado, have you downloaded the App? Check in to my session, starting soon! Whether near or far, visit their site to check out all the sessions and follow along on social media.
“You’re a house-sitter, Mom, because you sit in the house all day!” That’s my four-year-old’s understanding of working from home.
When I was a kid, my Dad worked from home for IBM. On conference calls, he would wear a hands-free headset while watering plants or doing dishes. My brother joked that Dad’s job was, “Yelling at plants.”
Today my own family is just as mystified by what I do up in my attic office, and maybe you are curious, too, Farrell Scholars.
I have two jobs: Teacher Trainer and Instructional Designer
The easiest way to explain my job is online teaching. Thanks to phones, email, and video conferencing, I can teach without being physically in the room with my students.
My “students” are teachers and administrators who are using computer-based products for adult education. The company I work for, Essential Education, is based in Corvallis, Oregon.
Here’s a picture of Global Headquarters! This is “The Vatican” of Essential Education, where my awesome Boss works and decisions get made!
Inside, you are greeted by a cardboard cut-out of Leonard, the teacher character who is the virtual voice and face of all of our programs.
I visited Oregon once, but I live in Ohio.
Our customers are located all over the U.S. and we’re branching into international markets. We’re making headway in South Africa, but I haven’t been invited there…yet!
When an adult literacy organization purchases one of our products, then I set up their account and help them get started using the product.
Four times a week I provide interactivewebinars for new teachers or customers. Another Teacher Trainer, the fabulous Dr Carmine Stewart, provides one webinar a week.
After the webinars, I provide ongoing support along with the sales reps and our other admin staff. This means I respond to emails and phone calls from teachers and administrators.
Sometimes it’s as simple as logging in for the first time, other times they have questions about program design or how assessments are scored.
Most days, I only get a few requests but some days the phone is ringing off the hook. I try to clear my inbox every day, too. Customer communication is my first priority, but not my only job.
The rest of the time, I am BUILDING!
An instructional designer is a fancy name for a multimedia author. I don’t just write text. I create interactive, online lessons, quizzes, tests, and work with a team to design courses for adult learners.
Right now I am focused on Social Studies with another designer who is based in Hawaii.
We divide up material to be created (right now lots of quizzes and practice tests), and the other team members provide editing and feedback.
Our materials adapt to the student, so the tests and quizzes we’ve been writing create individual learning plans to prepare students in different subjects.
We also share articles and videos about education, technology, and topical issues, discussing perspectives and ways we can incorporate best practices into our work.
True, occasionally me or my co-workers have kids at home during work time. But if you’ve ever met my children, the two of them together are like the Tazmanian devil. They will tear up the house if I don’t give them my full attention.
On the other hand, I’m not tied to my phone and computer 24/7. Some people work like this, but not me. I protect my family time. After-hours calls automatically go to voice mail. When I’m off work, I’m unavailable.
Myth 2: I work part-time
My hours are 8:30am to 5:00pm weekdays, and some evenings.
I have to be responsive to the teachers, students, and design team. I have deadlines, meetings, provide trainings, and that definitely adds up to a full-time workload.
If I don’t “show up” or do my assigned work, it’s obvious pretty quickly.
While I’m not in the physical room with the team, they know whether or not I’m “there” on Skype, Google Hangouts, Google Docs, and Dropbox.
Truth: No Snow Days
Since I don’t have to commute, I don’t get snow days or most federal holidays. My office has a nice view of the houses and field across the street.
So what kind of projects do I work on?
Example 1: Grading Extended Responses
Essential Education is unique among adult education publishers in that our team grades all the Extended Responses that students submit online. I grade on Wednesday mornings, and we typically get 40-60 responses each day.
If I don’t get my responses graded, then it’s quickly obvious to the next in line if they log in and see 30 still to be graded!
Example 2: Tagging and Testing
This month we’re entering tons of metadata on lessons, tests, and quizzes in our new course management system.
It’s data entry–mindless and repetitive–but still engaging because I helped to build what we’re entering.
I do my best to keep myself entertained and focused. A couple weeks ago, I was adding lessons to a unit called “Social Studies Analysis.” To find “Analysis” I got to type “anal” over and over again, 25 times.
So that’s what I do all day: type “anal.” I love my job. No joke!
The Warsaw Pact (countries of central & eastern Europe to protect communist interests against NATO)
U.S. maturation as an international power (’nuff said)
Division of Germany, Berlin Blockade and Airlift (Germany divided into capitalist West and communist East, including Berlin wall)
Truman doctrine (In 1947 President Truman offered assistance to all nations under threat from external forces)
Marshall Plan (U.S. support of $17 billion to rebuild European economies)
Lyndon B Johnson and The Great Society (Policies to end domestic poverty and discrimination, but funding later diverted to Vietnam)
Meagen’s Note: This set of policies has the most direct impact on literacy programs in the U.S. today, including the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act, VISTA, Head Start, and more.
Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal (President Nixon resigned after investigation of abuses of power by his administration)
Collapse of U.S.S.R. and the democratization of Eastern Europe (end of communist Warsaw Pact, East Germany, etc)
American Foreign Policy since 9/11
The GED Testing Service has no subcategories here, so I guess this is still up for debate. I would create the following categories (there’s a lot one could say here, so I will try to focus on highlights):
Taliban’s attacks on September 11th, 2001
Al-Qaida’s international network and leader Osama Bin Laden
U.S. support of Israel and international disputes over Israeli blockade of Palestinian territories
U.S. and NATO Invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq under George W. Bush
Arab Spring: grassroots protest and military movements for democracy from Tunisia to Syria
Nation-building strategies: promoting education and economic development to reduce influence of terrorist groups
Meagen’s Note: Adult education is definitely a nation-building strategy!
Guantanamo Bay and enhanced interrogation techniques
Unmanned drones and air strikes under Barack Obama