New GED Has Teachers Concerned

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The nationwide move towards Common Core isn’t just upping expectations for students in high school classrooms—it’s also raising the bar for those who dropped out. The GED is changing to reflect the new Common Core educational standards 46 states around the country have at least in part adopted, and some GED teachers worry students will have a lot of catching up to do to pass the new test. As StateImpact Indiana’s Julie Rawe reports, the test may be toughest for students who have the added challenge of pursuing their GED while in prison.


In Dawn Grage’s GED classroom at the Plainfield Correctional Facility, there’s a new sense of urgency… Grage is helping 27-year-old student Deon Fisher learn to reduce fractions. In bold print on the wall behind them, a poster reminds students “Get Motivated!” Grage has been telling her students the GED is changing January 1, 2014, and that has Deon Fisher worried.

“I was told it’s going to be a lot harder, so that’s what’s really motivating me to get it before 2014. I’m like, I’ve got to get it, because if this stuff is hard for me, I can just imagine what that’s going to be.”

If Fisher and Dawn Grage’s other students don’t pass the test this year, the good scores they’ve earned on sections of the test will expire, and they’ll have to start over with a harder, computerized test—one that will incorporate more writing skills, a better understanding of how to apply knowledge, and algebra problems much more difficult than the math topics Fisher is studying today. Grage says she has faith in her students’ abilities, but she worries the new test will discourage many of them.

You know, some of them went through elementary school or junior high. They’ve been out of school a long time. You know, they don’t know these things they’re teaching in the public schools now, because the requirements in public schools have increased also.”

Students in the prison system have a lot riding on their test scores. Fisher dropped out of high school more than a decade ago when he was in the 10th grade. He got in trouble with drugs, started dealing them, and he landed in prison.

“When you go to look for a job, they ask you, ‘Do you have your GED?’ And I want to be able to check yes. You know what I mean? Plus I need this for when my kids get older. You know, if I can know this stuff I can help them out.”

Department of Corrections Director of Education John Nally says students like Fisher also have the added incentive of a six month sentence reduction if they pass the test, one of the largest the prison system offers. For Fisher, that means he could turn his 4 and a half years in prison into more like 4. But Nally says students will soon have to wait longer for their time cut. He says the new GED will require students to spend more time in basic education and literacy classes honing the reading and writing skills they’ll need to pass the test.

“That’s what we don’t know yet is how much additional time is it going to take to prepare this guy, this student, to get through a math exam that’s 50% algebra.”

The Department of Corrections plans to start pushing teachers to implement Common Core in their classrooms as early as this spring. Jackie Dowd, who oversees adult education programs at the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, says changes in prison classrooms are just part of the larger education overhaul Indiana schools are undergoing. Common Core standards are already being used in mainstream schools in kindergarten through 2nd grade.

Dowd: So from kindergarten on up, teachers will need to look at curriculum, will need professional development assistance to have that curriculum adapted to those Common Core standards at each and every grade level.”

(packing up nats) Back in Dawn Grage’s GED classroom, students are packing up their GED books for the day and heading back to the prison dorms. Many of them will come back early tomorrow morning to take a pre-test that will allow them to take the real GED. Grage says it doesn’t worry her so much that next year’s students may have to study harder and longer to get their GED. What does worry her is she and other GED teachers feel unprepared to teach to the test.

“The months are counting down, we’ve got to get ready. And right now, we’re not.”

And Grage says since the prison doesn’t yet have a computer lab, she’s not even sure how and where students will study and take the test. For StateImpact Indiana, I’m Julie Rawe.

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