There’s a new GED (high-school equivalency) in town, promoting itself as “a new comprehensive program.” The old GED test, phasing out next month, consisted of readings and multiple choice questions, often very challenging, in the areas of science, reading, and social studies (as well as writing and math). The new test appears on a computer and includes more writing and short-answer responses.
This new program, according to the website, “ensures that an adult’s high school equivalency credential signifies he or she has the skills and knowledge necessary to take the next critical steps in their life. We need to give these adults and their families a fighting chance. Their futures’ depend on it.”
In case you’re wondering, I cannot explain the apostrophe on “futures’,” nor the reason why “he or she,” referring correctly back to the singular “adult,” is followed by “their” in the next line.
Stimulus Material A farmer purchased 30 acres of farmland. The farmer calculated that the average topsoil thickness on the farmland is about 20 centimeters.
The farmer wants to maintain the thickness of the soil on this farmland by reducing erosion. The farmer plans to test the effectiveness of two different farming methods for reducing soil erosion.
Method 1: No-till (planting crops without plowing the soil)
Method 2: Winter cover crop (growing plants during the winter that are plowed into the soil in spring)
The farmer hypothesizes that using either method will reduce erosion compared to using traditional farming methods (plowing and no cover crop).
Design a controlled experiment that the farmer can use to test this hypothesis. Include descriptions of data collection and how the farmer will determine whether his hypothesis is correct.
Type your response in the box. This task may require approximately 10 minutes to complete.
A few thoughts:
Most of the students I teach have never seen or been to a farm. They may be marginally aware of the meaning of “plowing.” It’s unlikely they’ve encountered “topsoil” before.
They have never worked in a lab or conducted an experiment, even if they made it through part of 12th grade, because many high schools in Cleveland do not have labs. Our students should encounter the word “hypothesis” in their GED preparation, but few of them know or routinely use that word.
My students live in a neighborhood where the rate of functional illiteracy is over 80%. You read right.
Most of them do not have computers at home and have never learned to type.
Phrases like “descriptions of data collection” are meaningless to them.
The website goes on to describe, from highest to lowest, 3-point responses, 2-point responses, and 1-point responses. (Also 0-point, in which the student has blown it completely.)
3- point Response
A well-formulated, complete controlled experimental design
A well-formulated data collection method
A well-formulated, complete explanation of the criteria for evaluating the hypothesis
A logical controlled experimental design
A logical data collection method
A logical explanation of the criteria for evaluating the hypothesis
A minimal experimental design
A minimal or poorly-formulated data collection method
A minimal or poorly-formulated explanation of the criteria for evaluating the hypothesis
Here is a sample 3-point response listed on the website:
The farmer would have to set up 3 experiments. The first would be a years worth of traditional farming methods (plowing and no cover crop) on 5 x 5 acres of land. He would have to measure the top soil in every month throughout the year and record It In a lab table. For the second experiment the farmer would have to farm a plot of land 5×5 acres using a no-till plan. He would have to measure the top soil every month for a year and record it in a data table. Finally the farmer would farm a 5×5 acres of land with winter cover crop and measure the top soil every month and record It In a lab table. At the end of the year the farmer would have to compare the 2 methos agaisnt the traditional methid and determine ifhe is correct
The errors in spelling and punctuation indicate, I guess, the test graders’ generosity in overlooking proofreading errors.
I have a couple of scientist friends with Ph.D.’s who would write such an answer, or an even better one. I cannot imagine most of my friends, however–virtually all college graduates working in challenging careers–writing this response. I can see now why three experiments are necessary, but I wouldn’t have thought of it when taking the test.
With the old GED test, my students had a chance, barely, to earn a high-school diploma and qualify for a low-paying job and an opportunity to enroll in a community college or other training program. Under the new regime, as far as I can tell, very, very few will now have that chance.