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Big changes looming for GED courses

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Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2012 3:08 pm

As GED classes get under way in the Sanford adult education programs this fall, it will mark the start of a shift toward computer-based testing for the high school equivalency test.

Beginning in 2014, a new assessment will come into effect with an increased focus on critical thinking and problem-solving skills relevant to the real world. The biggest change, however, is that the test will now be taken on a computer rather than with pencil and paper, as the program moves to adapt to changing workforce needs.

“A lot of things are in flux,” said Allen Lampert, the director of Sanford Community Adult Education. Because the state hasn't yet determined how it will roll out the impending changes, “we haven't made any adjustments to our curriculum yet,” Lampert said.

Nevertheless, Sanford will be prepared for the shift to a computer-based test. While computer literacy isn't part of the current GED  – General Educational Development  – assessment, students in the Sanford GED program “get a pretty healthy dose of computers,” Lampert said. Available classes cover skills from basic computer literacy to specific programs, such as Microsoft Word and Excel. That is “probably true with adult ed programs throughout the state,” he added.

Lampert said computer literacy is crucial for today's employment market, from job searching itself to required skills for hiring. “In today's workplace, if nothing else you have to be able to go online to apply for a job,” he said. Many companies in southern Maine have switched to online applications, Lampert said, estimating that 70 to 80 percent now do computer-based applications only.

According to Andy McMahan, the GED administrator at the Maine Department of Education, as the state prepares for the new GED assessment, officials will look to install a few computer-based testing centers before the changeover date in an effort to “try it out before we get to 2014.”

The state will also make an effort to get people who are currently in the program to finish before the new assessment comes into effect, because those students who haven't finished by Dec. 31, 2013, will have to restart the process. The state dealt with a similar issue in 2001 as the cutoff for the new 2002 assessment approached.

This year will also see a focus on professional development for GED educators. There will be “a lot of staff development,” McMahan said, in order to “start getting them up to snuff” as the state learns more about the specific changes to the new test.

A public affairs specialist for the GED Testing Service, which administers the test nationwide, said educators will receive sufficient preparation for the switch to computer testing. Armando Diaz said that the test requires “very basic technology skills,” and noted that nationwide, the average GED test taker is 26 years old and thus likely has already achieved basic computer literacy.

The reasoning behind the launch of a new assessment, Diaz said, is the need to address an “evolving workforce and demand on technology.”

“The landscape is shifting,” he said, which meant that it was time to do a major overhaul of the assessment, rather than simply update a few questions. The test should show that the student has “real-life skill sets,” Diaz said.

The testing service also made the change because it wants the assessment to be a “starting point” for graduates, rather than an endpoint. As many jobs now require more than a high school diploma, the goal of the changes is to encourage students to “take it to that next step,” whether that be job training, community college, or a four-year college, Diaz said.

The assessment must “test the skills that an adult learner needs” to succeed in today's workforce or a higher education setting. Changing high school standards require adjustments to the test, because “we need to make sure that we're staying on par with high school standards,” Diaz said. The new assessment is undergoing field testing with high school seniors.

This is the fifth revamp of the test since it was first created in 1942.  Starting this fall, the testing service, which is a public-private joint venture between the American Council on Education and Pearson, will begin a national closeout campaign to push current students to finish the program before the Dec. 31, 2013, cutoff date.

GED enrollment, meanwhile, has been down slightly since the beginning of this year. Enrollment “goes just the opposite of the economy,” McMahan said. When the economy is doing well, the number of students enrolled in GED programs goes down. “They tend to go up” when the economy is not doing well, as people return to get new skills or decide to work towards a degree if they are “out of work or in danger of being out of work.”

McMahan expects the new test to “upgrade some of the skills” required of graduates, and better prepare them for a changing world.

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