About 250 students enroll for free in remediation classes at the Adult Learning Center at Lehman College each trimester. The most advanced students are preparing to take the TASC test. Many students and instructors still call it the GED, even though December was the last month for students to take the old test. The program offices are located in the basement of the Old Gymnasium building at Lehman and, because the students don’t pay tuition, each new trimester teachers have to scout out empty classrooms, like this computer lab, to hold class in.

 

Raymond Ross, 39, spent much of the class texting on his phone and not paying attention. When Vincia Serrant, 47, was about to share her work Ross reminded her, tersely, just to read one sentence. The class laughed. Serrant stopped, looked straight at Ross and the class became silent. “I don’t appreciate that,” she said finally after a long pause, and then continued to read her sentence.

 

Mike Dooley, 67, started teaching in the program 12 years ago after retiring as an EMT. “There is always a lot of anxiety about the GED,” said Dooley. But now he said people are actually “less anxious because we can honestly say we don’t know what’s going to happen: we don’t know what the new test is going to be like.”

 

Students spent time in class practicing how to summarize. The new TASC test will require students to summarize two different texts and offer their opinion about the issues they raise. On the GRE they just had to write a personal essay with examples from their own lives.

 

Althea, 51, worked for 25 years at the Bank of New York but came back to study for the GED a year ago after she was diagnosed with dyslexia. She realized she didn’t need to blame herself for her struggles in high school anymore. Still, she hasn’t told her friends or bosses that she lacks a high school diploma and is taking a remediation class.

 

Jenny Mendez, 28, came to class in scrubs from her job as an ultrasound technician. She went to school twice before to take the GED but said personal problems got in the way and she dropped out. Her current boss wants her to take the test, so can go to college to get certified. “I want to do it for me too,” she said.

Bernie Connaughton, 59, switched to adult education in 1991 from teaching middle school. “It was overwhelming for me,” said Connaughton. He prefers teaching adults who are motivated. “People come when they’re ready. You know that zen saying, when the student is ready a teacher appears.” But Connaughton said he feels weary about the new test. “I feel demoralized as a teacher,” he wrote in an email. “The game plan is being changed without regard for those of us in the field. I’m really not sure I will remain in the game.”

 

At one point Connaughton had trouble underlining words on the Smartboard. The students laughed and offered their suggestions and the energy in the room perked up for the rest of class.

 

Every student had to make a timeline of their lives for the class. Mendez wrote “I fell in love” in 2009 but said she is no longer with that man. For 2014 Mendez wrote, “Started my new successful life.”

 

This student included the day he joined a union and the day Barack Obama was elected on his timeline. “I was trying to be a welder,” was the sentence he read aloud to the class from his piece.

 

 

This article appeared in CityLimits.org on March 3, 2014

By Oliver Morrison

It took Althea Hoyte more than 30 years to build up the courage to try to earn her high school diploma. Now, after a year of studying, she thinks it might be too late. Hoyte took the General Education Development (GED) test in November but found out in January that she didn’t pass.

The GED was the test that students who hadn’t graduated from high school had to pass to move on to college or some careers. But it was phased out in New York at the end of December and replaced with the more challenging Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC). The new test is intended to “raise educational achievement for all students,” according to the New York State Education Department.

Students like Hoyte, 51, are worried they may not be able to pass the more rigorous test. “I understand that they want to challenge you and make you work harder, but it’s not feasible if you don’t speak good English or [if you] have a disability,” says Hoyte, who is dyslexic. In December, an estimated 15,000 students rushed to take the GED before it was phased out, three times as many as the year before.

Some adult-education teachers are saying the TASC is being rolled out poorly, that they don’t have time to prepare properly and that students may get frustrated and drop out. Some have even gone to Albany to advocate for the money they believe is necessary to make the transition more successful. But they are worried that all the political attention on pre-K has overshadowed the historic change under way for adults-learners.

Hoyte attends classes at the Adult Learning Center at Lehman College in the Bronx, where students and educators alike say they are stuck in a state of limbo. With less than a month until the new Common Core-aligned TASC test will be widely administered, teachers there haven’t adapted their instruction because said they haven’t seen a full version of the new test.

Teachers debate: Breadth vs. depth

The new TASC still has the same five sections as the old GED—reading, writing, math, science and social studies—but it will cover more advanced material and require more sophisticated answers. This aligns the test with the tougher Common Core standards.

The writing section will be more analytical and will include more non-fiction, says Jaye Jones, the director of the program at Lehman.

“The old writing test was more of a personal essay. They could really write from their own experience,” says Paul Wasserman, who has been teaching GED prep at Lehman since 1991. He says the new essay requires a level of analysis that is harder than the writing expected of freshmen entering college.

Wasserman has started to prepare for these changes. He’s begun having students summarize two related texts rather than just one, but hasn’t yet asked them to do the more complicated task of analyzing them both.

The TASC test is supposed to gradually add new material and become more difficult, but just how gradually it will evolve isn’t clear. Wasserman says he just ordered the first test preparation book that McGraw-Hill released in February.

“The old test was mostly a reading comprehension test,” Wasserman says. “Students didn’t have to have a lot of factual knowledge.”

Wasserman has already started experimenting with ways to help his students memorize and retain more information. But this isn’t a part of Lehman’s current approach to teaching . “We’ve been teaching the idea that students should be studying something more in-depth over a period of time, rather than a scattershot American history in 10 weeks,” Wasserman says.

The educators in the program worry that the greater emphasis on test preparation will come at the expense of developing their students’ passion and love of learning. The new test may be unrealistic given the limited classroom time, says Mike Dooley, 67, who has taught in the program for 12 years.
“People are trying to make up for not having gone to high school by going three days a week for nine hours total. So the time doesn’t really jive,” Dooley says.

Mark Trushkowsky, who trains math teachers at CUNY’s 11 centers that teach the TASC, said he continues to instruct teachers to teach deeply even if it means not being able to cover all the material. The reason is that, in addition to requiring students to know more content, the test will ask harder questions.

For example, the GED might have asked how to find the area of a rectangle. In contrast, the TASC might ask how, given a certain amount of fencing material, a farmer could maximize the size of his rectangular garden, says Trushkowsky.

The only way he thinks students will be able to answer these more difficult questions is if teachers spend time going deeply into their subject matter.

“I want to make sure this test doesn’t make classes become test-preppy. That didn’t work for these students the first time,” Trushkowsky says. “We’re a second chance for these people and we all feel that responsibility.”

Worries about discouragement

Jones, the program director for adult learning at Lehman, says she isn’t sure how many students they will send to the first TASC test in March because she doesn’t know who will be ready.
“I’ve spoken with students who feel very discouraged,” Jones says. Teachers are now paying closer attention to the emotional cues students are giving off in class, she says, so they won’t give up.

Even with all the challenges, Trushkosky said that he expects the same percentage of students to pass the TASC as in the past, because the passing score is determined by how well current high school students can do on the test. The TASC would only become more difficult to pass if current high school students started to master the Common Core, which he doesn’t think has happened yet.

Most of the students in a recent night class at Lehman said they didn’t know much about the new test, or heard it was harder than before. Jenny Mendez, 28, tried twice to study for the old GED. But each time personal problems got in the way and she dropped out. Like most students there, she said she was most worried about the new math section.

The uncertainty isn’t just affecting students. “I feel demoralized as a teacher,” Bernie Connaughton, 59, who has been teaching adults for more than 20 years, wrote in an email.

“In general, people are freaked out, angry, worried and puzzled about how to proceed,” Wasserman wrote in a recent email, as rumors have started to circulate among adult educators in New York about the first students who took the TASC in February.

“There are people who were close to retiring that decided this would be a good time to do it,” Trushkosky says.

Alexander Hoffman, a researcher at Columbia University, says one of the reasons teachers are feeling anxiety is because this is the first time in recent memory that the adult education community has been affected by education reform. Recent reforms like No Child Left Behind didn’t affect the adult learning community.

“An enormous part of the stress is that there is something new coming and they think that their students are going to be victims,” says Hoffman. “Whether they are right or wrong, they care passionately.”

But Hoffman says the new test might be a more accurate reflection of what it takes to succeed in college and careers than the old test. “The old GED has not been rigorous enough and has not been meaningful enough,” Hoffman adds.

Statewide concerns

The transition to the new test has been rocky at adult education centers outside CUNY as well. Josh Willis, director of the Education Center at the non-profit Turning Point, says the new TASC preparation book released by McGraw-Hill seems to confirm that they will have to teach more subject matter in science and social studies.

“It goes straight from the Declaration of Independence to the Tonkin Resolution. It feels very scattershot,” says Willis. “If they’re expected to learn all of the knowledge kids are supposed to learn in high school, it’s tough to put that in a 200- or even 300-page book.”

Now that the Board of Regents in New York has delayed full implementation of the Common Core in public schools until 2022, Willis says adult education centers will have to take the lead in learning all this new material.

“It’s hard to lead the charge when you’re underfunded,” notes Willis.

The current cost of educating an adult in New York State is about $1,200 per year, compared with more than $19,000 for students enrolled full-time in public school. The Board of Regents recommended further increasing education funding in the state by $1.3 billion this year for pre-K – 12 districts, in part to help schools train their teachers to adapt to the Common Core standards.

Kevin Douglas, 30, who advocates for adult literacy as part of his job with United Neighborhood Houses, believes adult-learning centers can meet the new standards over the next three years.

“If the dollars are there, yes, they can do it,” Douglas says. “The concern is, how do we bring people from where they are now to where they need to be without any more resources in the system?”

Douglas and other advocates met with a representative of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and leaders from the state legislature on Feb. 26 to advocate for $20 million of additional resources to help programs like the one at Lehman adapt to the new test. While Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, chair of the committee on education, has been a strong supporter in the Assembly, Douglas says her Senate conterparts have been less vocal.

“It’s one thing to support adult education in words and it’s another to put the dollars forward to make it successful,” Douglas says.

Several advocates like Douglas from the New York Coalition for Adult Literacy, which is leading the push for more funding, says the state’s push into pre-K would be more likely to succeed with more investment in adult education.

“If the parents of those children don’t have language skills or have bad numeracy skills, the benefit of pre-K will trail off by the time they get to third grade,” says Ira Yankwitt, 47, another member of the Coalition for Adult Literacy.

Keeping heads above water

Trushkowsky, the math coordinator at CUNY, says the obstacles many TASC students face are daunting. He compares it to his recent attempt to learn how to swim.

During his second class he began to struggle. His resolve wavered before his third and he thought, “Maybe I should just go home.”

This lead to an epiphany—this is how his students felt. “I was very aware in that moment that I don’t do that in my life. I don’t have a tri-weekly date with something that is a huge challenge for me,” he says.

Diagnosed with dyslexia a few years ago, Hoyte continues to attend classes regularly. She feels less ashamed of past failures now that she’s learned about dyslexia.

“It wasn’t a problem I created,” she says. “I was born with it. I came back to school because I learned my struggle wasn’t something that I was doing wrong.”

But she never told her bosses, coworkers or even her family that she didn’t have a high school diploma. She has been attending classes in secret.

“It’s not only to keep the job that I have,” Hoyte says. “It’s for me. It’s a personal goal I’m trying to achieve.”

 

10 SAMPLE QUESTIONS FROM THE NEW TASC TEST: TASC Q1
10 SAMPLE QUESTIONS FROM THE NEW TASC TEST: TASC Q1
TASC Q2
TASC Q2
TASC Q3
TASC Q3
TASC Q4
TASC Q4
TASC Q5
TASC Q5
TASC Q6
TASC Q6
TASC Q7
TASC Q7
TASC Q8
TASC Q8
TASC Q9
TASC Q9
TASC Q10
TASC Q10

Fill in your answers below for these 10 sample questions from the new test. Answer Key Below.

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Answer Key: C, D, B, B, B, B, A, B, C, C

Old GED Sample Questions
Old GED Sample Questions

Here are some sample questions from a workbook created by PBS to help prepare students to take the old GED test.

GED Q2
GED Q2
GED Q3
GED Q3
GED Q5
GED Q5
GED Q7
GED Q7

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