5 Minute HSE Update: Major Test Changes

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?

HiSET Exam

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.


This exam underwent two notable recent changes:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:
    1. Combine two sentences into one new sentence.
    2. Write an appropriate concluding sentence for a paragraph.


GED Test

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.

This graphic sums up the changes nicely:

GED Performance Levels


St Noel’s Tutor Training

Our activity will use a sampler of the Essential Math Skills workbook.

The Surfoid: Making Geometric Solids Fun

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.”

My well-planned idea went out the window when the box arrived. Before I could practice my presentation, my kids wanted to help take everything out. Then they started stacking the blocks and turning them into castles and guns while I struggled to remember the difference between the two egg-shaped pieces. My kids started to debate which one looked like a potato and which one was an egg. While I quickly re-read the Montessori Geometric Solids presentation, they organized the pieces into stacks with the same bases. All the triangles were stacked, the squares were stacked, and the circles were stacked.

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.

Quotable Quotes from All About Scoring

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.

The scoring tools and more can be found at http://www.gedtestingservice.com/educators/constructedresponse

What is the GED Testing Service Publishing Program?

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.

Missed COABE? Learn how to Crack the Code of Social Studies

Yesterday, I had the chance to repeat a shorter version of my COABE session on the GED Social Studies Extended Response as the monthly webinar for Tuesdays with Essential Education. And we recorded it this time!

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.

You can watch the entire video (about 50 minutes). Here is my section of slides to view or download:

(Re)Writing History: Teaching GED Social Studies Extended Response

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.

What DO You Do All Day, Meagen?

“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.

Attic OfficeI 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!

Office BuildingInside, 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.

Meagen and cardboard cut outI 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.

Webinar Welcome PageFour times a week I provide interactive webinars 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.

Meagen Thinking
Thinking about a customer question

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.

GED Academy Social Studies
I helped build this!

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.

My job is similar to Instructional Coordinators or Technical Writing, with a bit of Computer Support Specialist thrown in.

MYTH 1: I work with kids home

Um, no.

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.

Kid yelling with utensils
This is my kid relaxing. No joke.

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.

Snow houses trees
Can you see the SNOW? In March?

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!

What GED© Test Takers Need to Know about U.S. History

The GED© Test went through a lot of changes last year, but I want to make sure one shift in Social Studies is not overlooked.

U.S. Map

The previous GED© test emphasized both World History and U.S. History. Instead the new test focuses 20% on U.S. History, with no World History. The closest element includes “key historical documents that have shaped American constitutional government,” but I’m not sure how many documents from World History would be included on that list.

In addition to understanding major historical documents, GED© Test Takers should prepare with a general grounding in the following historical periods:

  • European Settlement of the Americas,
  • Revolutionary & Early Republic Period,
  • Civil War and Reconstruction,
  • Civil Rights,
  • World Wars I & II,
  • Cold War, and
  • Post-9/11 Foreign Policy.

Want a little more detail? The following are the subcategories contained in the Assessment Guide for Educators, last updated in July 2014. The notes in parentheses are my own summaries of each point:

Revolutionary and Early Republic Periods

  • Revolutionary War (U.S. independence from Britain)
  • War of 1812 (still fighting the British for territory around the Great Lakes)
  • Articles of Confederation (states agree to work together under one government, later replaced by the U.S. Constitution)
  • Manifest Destiny (belief that God wants the U.S. to expand West, with purchase and treaties that expand territory)
  • U.S. Indian Policy (established relationships with Native Americans as sovereign nations, and signed treaties that removed them from most of their ancestral lands)
  • George Washington (General of the Revolutionary Army, first President, whose biggest legacy was peaceful transition of power)
  • Thomas Jefferson (primary author of the Declaration of Independence and third President whose writings still impact policy)

Civil War and Reconstruction

  • Slavery (ended by the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863)
  • Sectionalism (Northern vs. Southern regional divisions resulted in 11 states trying to secede and form the Confederate States of America)
  • Civil War Amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Federal Constitution-go read them)
  • Reconstruction policies (federal government trying to rebuild areas torched by the war)

Civil Rights

  • Jim Crow laws (legal segregation by race, mostly in Southern states)
  • Women’s Suffrage (founded in 1848, succeeded in securing women’s right to vote in 19th Amendment ratified in 1920)
  • Civil Rights Movement (protests against Jim Crow laws and economic inequalities, particularly in 1950s-60s)
  • Supreme Court rulings: Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) allowing “separate but equal” racial segregation in schools overturned by Brown v. Board of Education (1954).
  • Warren court decisions (Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren declared legal racial segregation unconstitutional)

World War I

  • Alliance System (by 1914, European nations had organized into two opposing alliances that went to war)
  • Imperialism (idea that superior societies should conquer others to expand their Empire)
  • Nationalism (pride in national identity)
  • Militarism (using military power to conquer land and people)
  • Russian Revolution (two revolutions in 1917 that overturned the Tsar-royal family-and instated the Bolsheviks-communists)
  • Woodrow Wilson (President 1913-1921 who claimed U.S. obligated to promote global democracy)
  • Treaty of Versailles (signed in Paris 1919 to end World War I)
  • League of Nations (first international organization to promote world peace, replaced by the United Nations after World War II)
  • Meagen’s Note: Today UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) promotes quality adult and family literacy programs around the world.

World War II

  • Neutrality Acts and Isolationism (Congress passed laws in 1930s to avoid involvement in international conflicts)
  • Allied Powers (coalition of nations to repel invasion by the Axis powers, eventually led by Britain, U.S., and Soviet Union)
  • Axis Powers (lead by Italy, Japan, and Germany to expand their territories)
  • Fascism, Nazism, and totalitarianism (ideologies of a superior race or nation promoted by the Axis powers leading to invasions)
  • The Holocaust (German genocide including six million Jews)
  • Japanese-American internment (citizens and residents of Japanese descent were interred in camps during the war for fear of spies)
  • Decolonization (post-war independence movements in Asia, Middle East, and Africa)
  • GI Bill (U.S. government gives funds to veterans for college and to purchase homes, creating a robust middle class)
  • Meagen’s Note: The GED Test was created in 1947 to give enlisted veterans without a high school diploma an alternative way to enter the workforce or college and use the GI Bill.

The Cold War

  • Communism (markets controlled by central government)
  • Capitalism (decentralized power in markets by corporations and consumers)
  • NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization protects the interests of countries around the N. Atlantic Ocean, still in existence)
  • 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

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: