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AHE Student Blogs from a Popular Education Project (from Sondra Cuban, Program Director)

I wanted to introduce five blogs written by current students in AHE 554 (Foundations of Adult Education and Diversity) who focused on different issues affecting marginalized populations. As part of conducting a popular education project, the students in this course worked with community organizations and interviewed staff and/or participants in order to understand social problems from the ground up through action research. These blogs represent a sampling of the great projects that students did in this course. I hope you enjoy their blogs as much as I did!  

*Alesha Perrin -https://aleshaperrin.wordpress.com/  (popular education for Latinas)

*Matthew Santos https://santosahe554.wordpress.com/ (transitioning from prison)

*Susan Holman https://oldermarginalizedwomen.wordpress.com/  (older women in poverty)

*John Drummond https://atestdesignedforfailure.wordpress.com  (failure of the new GED)

*Anna LeCount https://alecount.wordpress.com/author/lecouna/  (LGBT homeless youth)

Texas Board of Education Votes Unanimously for GED Fairness

Please read the following blog recently written (July, 2015) by Elizabeth Hanson, ESOL teacher, Shoreline:

The 2015 Washington State legislative session just ended and our state is still without a fair GED test – continuing to harm the lives of more than 10,000 mostly low income citizens for yet another year. Despite the fact that the number of students earning a GED Certificate fell from 13,000 in 2013 to less than 2,850 in 2014, the 2015 Washington State legislature refused to pass a bill to give students in our state access to a fair GED test (fair means that the average high school graduate can pass it). On average we had had 13,000 GEDs earned per year in our state before a private for profit corporation, Pearson, took over the GED in January 2014. For the entire year of 2014, we had a total of 2,850 students earn their GED. That constitutes a 78% drop from the previous norm. Meanwhile the Texas Board of Education voted unanimously a few days ago to get an alternative to the Pearson test, citing its difficulty and cost. As of now- July 18th 2015- we don’t know how many GEDs have been earned so far in our state. But it is certain that it is far less than the historical average.

2015- What can we expect?
How many GED earners can we expect this year?… And how does that number differ from the average 13,000 GEDs earned per year? Looking at the pass rate in 2002, the last time the GED was modified and how it rebounded, we can get an idea of how many more GED’s to expect… a best case scenario. In 2002 with the new version of the GED, we had an approximate 27% drop in GED’s earned using the 13,000 GEDS per year average in our state. In 2003 we saw the number of GED’s earned increase- from approximately 9,750 in 2002 to approximately 11,800 in 2003 and this number remained essentially the same for the next 4 years. See this chart:

texas1
 

If we add the same number increase in the number of GEDs earned (2002 to 2003) because of getting used to the new test- 2,050- to the number of GEDs earned in 2014 we arrive at a grand total of 4,900, which is still 63% fewer people than the yearly average. Meanwhile, we continue to see delays in the release of information about the 2014 GED and the number of students who have passed the 2015 GED.

We found out yesterday that students in the state of Ohio, are still not passing the Pearson GED anywhere near the levels they had averaged on their previous test. From the article "Far Fewer Passing the GED Test"...

"The number of people successfully obtaining their GED, Ohio’s only official high-school equivalency test, plunged by 86 percent last year, and the rebound to normalcy that some state officials have been predicting is nowhere in sight. GED Testing Service, a for-profit partnership that has the monopoly on the high-school equivalency degree in Ohio, is on pace to award about 3,700 GED certificates this year, according to the Ohio Department of Education. That is less than a quarter of the 16,500 Ohioans on average who got GEDs each year between 2000 and 2013. As bad as that 2015 number is, it’s up substantially from 2014, when only 2,164 Ohioans passed the test, down from more than 15,000 the previous year."     http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2015/07/04/far-fewer-passing-ged-test.html 

I'd like to know how many people have earned their GED in Washington State so far this year. Also, in past years, the GED Annual Report for each state in the nation is released in June of the following year. But it is now July and the following web page still does not have the 2014 GED Annual Report listed.       http://www.gedtestingservice.com/educators/historical-testing-data

Why does the State of Washington and Pearson continue to hide the information about the number of students getting their GED? It is because they are trying to keep us all in the dark about how terrible things have gotten. Did you know that even some very well educated college grads can't pass the Pearson Vue GED? http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/01/13/ivy-league-grads-can-t-pass-the-new-ged.html 

Compassion
I want people to care about GED seekers who can’t pass the Pearson test, but otherwise would be able to pass a fairly normed high school equivalency test, again meaning a test that the average high school grad can pass. High school students in our state can’t pass the Pearson Vue test just like they can't pass the SBAC Common Core tests because these are not  high school equivalency tests. They are more like meant to show that a kid can be placed into college level courses- yet there is no proof to show that if you pass the Pearson Vue or the SBAC Common Core tests that you will do will in college, nor conversely is their proof that if you don't pass these tests that you can't do well in college. And when we hear Common Core's mantra of having to get students "College and Career ready"  did you know that fully 2/3 of all jobs with the most growth projected to 2022 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics won't even require a college degree (And most of those don't pay a living wage either.)    http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_104.htm    Are we being misled in any way? Are our students being served by the narrow common core curriculum and the hard to pass tests? 

The biggest factor in college success is teacher given grades and income level, not test results. My husband wrote about it hand shows the reseach here on our website Coalition to Protect Public Schools. http://coalitiontoprotectourpublicschools.org/the-real-reason-the-sbac-math-test-fails-67-percent-of-all-students 

I want people to see and feel how unfair this situation is. Maybe there has been no financial hardship or dysfunction in their family, and everyone sailed through high school and on to university. Maybe no one had a cognitive difference and could easily keep up with the pace and noise of high school.  Maybe people think that because everyone they know could graduate from high school, that everyone can do it. However, that’s not the case for a great many people in our state. There is a lot of diversity in the world. We are not all the same. We must not make graduation requirements and high school equivelency requirements beyond the reach of the majority of students! 

I had occasion to take two teenage girls to a One Direction concert. One of the girls had 4 siblings- 3 had dropped out of high school and went on to earn their GED. She is about to enter 10th grade. She is a fine kid. A great girl and she lives in abject poverty. She doubts she can make it through high school. With the high class sizes and her tough home life, what is the chance she will graduate when she already has doubts and she is only entering the 10th grade?

On a personal level, I’m the only person in 4 generations to graduate from high school. My grandma, dad and son all had to earn their GED for one reason or another. My grandma became a GED teacher, my dad became a social worker and my son will be applying to nursing schools soon. I keep wondering where my family would be if they had not been able to earn a GED credential. I wonder what it would be like if my son hadn't been able to attend college or to get a job.

And I wonder how our State legislature can turn their backs on more than 10,000 students per year who are being unfairly denied a GED Certificate simply because the State legislature refuses to act. I wonder how they can morally allow a test that is so difficult that the majority of our high school grads couldn't pass it, nor the legislators themselves. 

texas2
The nuts and bolts of unfairness
Last week, the Texas State Board of Education voted unanimously to get a fair GED test. Here is a quote from an article written on July 15 2015:

“Texas residents seeking to earn high school equivalency certificates may soon have less expensive, more flexible testing options. The State Board of Education voted Wednesday to seek alternatives to the computer-based General Educational Development exam — possibly including paper-based tests. The 14-0 vote came a day after the board heard more than three hours of testimony from test-takers, teachers and education advocates who said the only high school equivalency test the state recognizes is too expensive and too difficult.”  http://www.texastribune.org/2015/07/15/state-education-board-seek-ged-alternatives/

I want to get a fair GED in our state. There is an option that is normed to this 60%. It’s called the HiSet test. Unfortunately, our current state legislature refused to allow our students access to this fairer high school equivalency test this legislative session. When asked why our students continue to be deprived of fairness, one member of the Washington state legislature openly admitted that the reason the legislature could not allow students access to a fair GED test was because of the new Common Core standards and Common Core test called SBAC. The SBAC test is an extremely difficult college entrance test that this year flunked more than 70% of the high school students who took it here in Washington state.  http://coalitiontoprotectourpublicschools.org/50-000-juniors-in-washington-state-fail-to-pass-the-unfair-sbac-math-test

The legislator explained that if high school students had access to a fair GED test, many would refuse to take the SBAC test. Instead, they would simply drop out of high school and take the GED test and use that to go to college. So this is what our state legislature has come to... destroying the lives of 10,000 low income students per year just to protect an unfair Common Core SBAC test. Shame on the State legislature. Shame on their arrogance. The only good news is that 2016 is an election year. We hope to find candidates willing to run for office who actually care about our students more than they care about increasing the profits of private corporations like Pearson. In the mean time, if you want a fair GED test, perhaps you should consider moving to Texas or any of the other 16 states who offer the HiSET test. And just like states are leaving the Common Core high stakes tests PARCC and SBAC, they are state by state leaving the Pearson GED too. http://coalitiontoprotectourpublicschools.org/states-leave-common-core-sbac-and-parcc-tests-like-rats-deserting-a-sinking-ship.  I hope our state can do better by its children and its GED seekers. 

Regards,
Elizabeth Hanson M. Ed.
Restore GED Fairness (dot) org

Weapons of Mass Deception

Please read the following blog recently written (May 10, 2015) from alumni Marcia Marcia Leister <marcialeister@fastmail.com> and Elizabeth Hanson  <eeliz@comcast.net>, ESOL teacher, Shoreline: 

Multinational Corporations along with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and the Walton Foundation (among others) are transforming education to suit their views and profit motive at the expense of students throughout the country. The GED test, now owned by Pearson Publishing, has become so difficult that there has been an 80%+ drop in the number of students able to earn their GED since its change in January 2014. This rise in difficulty has created unnecessary barriers and hardship in the lives of students and their families who are unable to access financial aid for college and in many cases obtain employment. It is also severely affecting ABE/GED instructors: how do you teach to a test designed for failure? A bill to restore GED fairness by offering an alternative high school equivalency test was brought before the WA state legislature during the 2015 session and died in committee. A professional development/political advocacy group for ABE/GED/ESL students and instructors in WA state is the next goal for the restore GED fairness group. 

For more info, please see this link: http://weaponsofmassdeception.org/ and blurb on book: Everyone wants excellent education, excellent K-12 education, excellent higher education, and excellent adult education. Today we are seeing drastic changes occurring K-12. Our children are wrongly labelled as falling behind and are wrongly having imposed on them a narrower and "deeper" curriculum with associated high stakes testing. In fact, the common core tests K-12 students in our state are taking this year are slated to fail over 60% of the kids (math) and about 50% of the kids (English). The ed-reform in K-12 is impacting adult ed. In adult ed, one of the first things this teacher and author noticed in early 2014 was a markedly much more difficult GED test. She took the math test, and despite having taught GED math for 3 years AND having completed intermediate algebra a few years earlier she failed the test! This set her on a path of investigation. She brought her husband, a former UW education researcher, into the investigation and what they uncovered after 10 months of research was startling and resulted in this book.

What is Education...

WikiLeaks published on Thursday the secret draft text of …a controversial global trade agreement promoted by the United States and European Union that covers 50 countries… The same governments that installed the failed global trade deregulation models in the World Trade Organization that lead to the global financial meltdown are now promoting TISA…”

What is education? I’ve been an adult ed teacher since 1985, (ESL primarily) and I value the meaning of the word education, which is “to bring forth”… to bring forth something that is in a student or in myself. It’s like we all have seeds in us. Seeds break open and eventually very small plants grow into fullness when the correct conditions are met.

Today’s educational culture runs counter to who I am as a teacher: high stakes testing, the privatization/for profit charter school movement, race to the top-no child left behind mandates… and I thought I could keep teaching without looking at any of  this… I thought because I’m in adult ed, the corporate takeover of education wouldn’t affect me.

Since 1985, the bedrock of my teaching practice has been in creating conditions for learning, such as creating community, providing students with models, steps and tasks, noticing success, which in turn becomes student confidence, and making sure we all have a safe, respectful environment to try things out and make mistakes.

Aside from creating the basic conditions for learning, I’ve come to understand, over the years, that while everyone can learn to read, write, do math, play music and do art, people have wildly differing level s of capacity. Just look at singers, or artists, athletes or mathematicians. Some people by nature do better than others. And this to me is undeniable. We collectively are a mosaic of abilities. A forest has a diverse ecosystem- ants, trees, birds, slugs, squirrels and no one ever thinks that we have to redo the forest… arrange it so we have more ants than slugs. Along the same lines, the way I see it, every human should be valued despite their wild differences in ability and talent. Uniqueness is actually needed in society when we have a healthy society.

So, living over the years with these two premises: we need the right conditions to learn and everyone can learn to at least a basic capacity and is unique, my teaching world had been moving along quite smoothly  until I encountered  the new Pearson GED test.  In a nutshell, the GED has been around since the end of WW2, and over the years it has been changed a few times. It was the same version from 2002-2014 and then Pearson bought it and now it’s drastically different from how it had been (for one, it’s now a private-for profit test and has more than doubled in price). I digress.  Here’s how I found out that the new GED is an unfair test:

I taught GED for 3 ½ years earlier in my career, before I came to Shoreline Community College where I work now, and many of my ESL students at Shoreline go from ESL to GED classes. In fact, our ABE-GED classes are typically 40% ESL. Naturally, I have a vested interest in aiding in their successful transition. One day our GED teacher, who is also the ABE/GED department chair, handed me a copy of the GED math test. It looked very different from the old GED test, and that evening  I took the test at home and, much to my surprise, I flunked it. I was shocked by its difficulty as I had taken 2 quarters of intermediate algebra a few years earlier and had taught an ABE math course for several quarters to my ESL students.  I didn’t consider myself to be so bad at math.

Having a curious mind, like most teachers do, I started doing research into the new GED, and found out it’s based on common core standards… and it is not normed to high school graduates like the former GED was.  What I mean by that is that high school equivalency tests are normed so that most high school graduates can pass it. However, students in Washington State aren’t going to be fully assessed using common core tests until next year, 2015-2016. So how could this new GED be a fair test to show high school equivalency now?

I did more research into common core tests. I found out that in K-12 when common core tests were given in New York and Kentucky, there has been remarkably big declines compared to the results on the former standardized tests the students were taking. For example, last year in New York only 31 percent of third through eighth graders passed the Common Core language arts and math exams.  In 2012, the year earlier, 55 percent of students were proficient in language arts and 65 percent were proficient in math.

Now feeling like I was trying to solve a mystery, I sought out info on the new GED test results. How many students were earning their GED using the new test? I found out at our school, in our Adult Ed program, we usually have 50-60 students who earn their GED from January- June each year. This year in 2014 we have had 5 or 6.  Moreover, in Washington state in 2012 we had on average 1,000 students per month earn their GED, from the Pearson national GED website (They got the historical database when they bought the test). Now, extrapolating from data sent to us by the state board, we have about 160 students per month earning their GED, a decline of about 85%.

Anyway, the bottom line is that we have major problems with this test. And unfortunately, we also have problems with our schools. Let’s list a few more problems we are facing in this state… I know it’s overwhelming to look at this list, but please bear with me.  We have a jobs crisis, a regressive tax structure,  tax breaks, NAFTA like trade agreements, questionable food, and too big to fail corporate monopolies are in control of it all AND sadly in control of many of our elected leaders. The ultimate causes for our problems seem to be arrogance, greed and wishful thinking. And I know you know all of this. And again, I don’t like to be so blunt.

However, I have an ask of you. You are a teacher. Teachers are the ones who know how to take complex information and explain it to others. Teachers know how to research and to be fair and unbiased. Teachers know how to be critical thinkers.  They are trained to solve problems. They know how to talk with and work with diverse people. They are good writers.  You really have more skills and power than you might want to confess to having or that you’ve ever exercised before. And our state and your community need you now more than ever. You are needed to become informed and to exercise your power. When you see something that doesn’t feel right, please do research. Ask why a situation is like it is and then ask why again. Talk to others about the problem you see.  Set up a problem solving strategy.  Find courage in yourself. See if you can help to change the world in a small way or in a big way.

If you’d like to take the Pearson GED test and let me know if you pass it, that would be a big help for me. I’d like to find 50 graduate students to take the test. The barrier to doing that is that it costs $120. I wonder how we could do that… hmmm. No, I don’t expect anyone to pay that much to help out with this cause. Anyway, so far, I’ve given a shortened math test to 60 college grads and only 6 have passed it.  But now I’m thinking about how to do an effective study on the pass-ability of this test without breaking the banks. It would help to make the case for getting another test, like the HiSET test in Washington State. The Pearson corporation would tell you if you passed it or not and would give you scores. It doesn’t tell the testing centers like the former GED used to.

My worst fear is that we will continue on the road to having a country of haves and have-nots.  It isn’t really in my nature to be pessimistic, but if we don’t change course, I believe many of our students and we ourselves will be in for a rude awakening.

To find out more about the new GED and the HiSET test many of us would like to see come to Washington State, please visit me at http://restoregedfairness.org/

Thank you for reading this. If you’d like to contact me, my email is eeliz@comcast.net.

Elizabeth Hanson

ESL Teacher, Shoreline Community College


The Low Income Housing Institute (LiHi) develops, owns and operates housing for the benefit of low-income, homeless and formerly homeless people in Washington State. Because homelessness is an adult education and higher education issue, AHE Director Dr. Sondra Cuban is doing a project with LiHi.