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A tough test for the new GED

Ohanian Comment: This breaks my heart.
After teaching in New York City, I got married, and worked for the Neighborhood Youth Corps in Trenton, New Jersey. My job was to research the GED exam and write a manual so that non-teachers could teach test prep to students at the Youth Corps.

My experience was that that if a student read on a 10th grade level,I could get them ready for the GED in six weeks. The manual was distributed to other Youth Corps sites in the state and the program so successful that the New Jersey state department of education actually passed a rule that students had to be out of school at least a year before they would be awarded a GED. The reason? Students were dropping out of school, taking the course, and acing the test.

At our site, students not testing out at a 10th grade level went into preparation programs. But one young woman, the mother of two who had a clerical job [through the Youth Corps] with the State and who tested out at a grade 8 reading level,told me, "You have to let me into your course. I swear I will read all the time. I can do this. You've never seen anyone work as hard as I will work." She told me that with the GED,she would be taken on as a civil service worker, ensuring a decent future for her children.

I let her in, and every day she carried books that I recommended with her. She assured me she was reading every spare moment she could find.

She passed the test with one point to spare. And she repeated that I had changed her life.

I could tell of other students from that long ago time, students who had a chance in life because they secured a high school diploma. I make no pretense that I was "educating" them. We were pursuing a very narrow goal--passing the test to obtain a high school diploma. I make no apologies. Without that diploma, they were doomed. And that's what the corporate politicos who keep making the test tougher are doing: dooming young people to a very bleak future.

And now the the new GED owners are making a profit. They call it GED Testing Service

Before becoming president of GED Testing Service, Randy Trask was Senior Vice President, Market Development Pearson VUE. Pearson, of course, is now co-owner of the new GED.

By Caitlin Emma

With help from Allie Grasgreen, Maggie Severns and Stephanie Simon

A TOUGH TEST FOR NEW GED: High school dropouts seeking an equivalency degree have been struggling with the revised GED exam, launched Jan. 1 as a profit-making joint venture between publishing giant Pearson and nonprofit American Council on Education. The pass rate on the old GED hovered around 72 percent and dipped only slightly after the last major revision to the exam in 2002. The new exam, aligned to the Common Core, is meant to be much harder - and indeed, just 53 percent of test-takers have passed. Most have gotten tripped up on the math section, which includes more algebra and word problems, according to CT Turner, senior director of state accounts for the GED Testing Service. The good news: About 80 percent of people who fail the math section "are just two to three right answers away from passing, so it's not a hopeless cause," Turner said. The GED Testing Service is analyzing the concepts that have proven most tricky and plans to help adult education teachers hone in on those subjects.

The new test is not only harder, it's also more expensive, with exam fees of up to $120, plus $30 to retake a section. (Some states subsidize the exam costs, so the actual cost to students varies.) Students appear quite wary of giving it a go. Through the end of July, just 105,000 students had taken the new GED. In a typical year, 750,000 students take the test. Turner said a steep drop was expected because of the format change -- but even so, the numbers have been disappointing, he said. "We've seen a lot of anxiety from adult learners and from education centers," Turner said. "I think we have a lot of work to do."

— Caitlin Emma with Ohanian Comment





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