Rescinding Opportunity

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.

Anyway, the new program offers sample questions to help educators like me help my students. Here’s one from the science portion.

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

Response contains

ï‚· A well-formulated, complete controlled experimental design

ï‚· A well-formulated data collection method

ï‚· A well-formulated, complete explanation of the criteria for evaluating the hypothesis

2-Point Response

Response contains

ï‚· A logical controlled experimental design

ï‚· A logical data collection method

ï‚· A logical explanation of the criteria for evaluating the hypothesis

 1-Point Response

Response contains

ï‚· A minimal experimental design

ï‚· A minimal or poorly-formulated data collection method

ï‚· 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.

This entry was posted in Teaching, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Rescinding Opportunity

  1. Kathy says:

    Didn’t even notice the acreage! Maybe he’s supposed to do the experiment over a period of 3 years!

  2. Kathy says:

    Well said, Annie.

  3. Annie Holden says:

    Having taught the old GED at 2100 Lakeside Men’s Shelter for the past 3 years, the shiny new version really is for another planet or galaxy somewhere. It bears no relationship to the literacy gap actual people are facing. It is beyond me….period.

  4. Bill Gunlocke says:

    Beyond me why such a problem would be appropriate.

  5. Betsey says:

    I am not a farmer, but it seems to me that, in addition to the proofreading errors, there is the issue of using three 5 x 5 acre areas. That sounds more like 75 acres rather than 30 acres! Let there not be any integration of skills in the areas of language, mathematics, and science!

  6. Kathy says:

    I volunteer two hours a week at the Thea Bowman Center at the corner of Union Avenue and East 120th Street. The program runs M-Th from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm and evenings 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm.

  7. Jamie says:

    In what situation do you prep for GED. I’d be interested in doing so or volunteering. By the way, one test prepared by the CMSD was so laden with errors that I was moved to create a parody of the test which found its way to the top.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *