Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Why Changing The GED To Incorporate Common Core Worries Adult Educators

Plainfield Prison GED classroom

Julie Rawe / StateImpact Indiana

Students in Dawn Grage's GED classroom are trying to pass the high school equivalency test before it changes on Jan. 1, 2014.

The nationwide move towards the Common Core State Standards isn’t just changing expectations for students in high school classrooms. It’s also raising the bar for those who dropped out.

The GED Testing Service is updating their high school equivalency exam to reflect the new, nationally-crafted academic standards 46 states around the country have — at least in part — adopted.

“Rumor is that it’s going to be much harder,” says Dawn Grage, who has been teaching GED classes in Indiana’s prisons for more than 20 years. “A lot of these guys have enough struggles getting through the current GED. And if it makes it harder and with computers, the older gentlemen … there are some guys who have never touched a computer.”

Many educators say the test was in need of an update. The current GED test is the same one students were taking over a decade ago. But GED teachers also worry their students will have trouble passing the new test, which will be totally computerized, incorporate higher level literacy and math skills, and cost students $120 rather than $70.


GED teachers around the country are pushing their students to pass the test before it changes on Jan. 1, 2014.

Dawn Grage’s classroom is no exception. A sign on her bulletin board reminds students to “Get Motivated!” to study hard and get through their GED books.

One of Grage’s students, 27-year-old Deon Fisher, is taking that warning seriously. He nods to his teacher’s sign.

“So that’s what’s really motivating me to get it before 2014,” says Fisher. “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.”

Fisher has a lot riding on the test. He could get out of prison six months earlier if he passes the test. He knows having a GED degree could improve his chances of getting a job even though he has felonies on his record. He thinks of setting a good example for his kids.

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 the harder test.


The Department of Corrections plans to start pushing teachers to implement Common Core in their classrooms as early as this spring, and helping prisoners pass the GED is a major incentive to start sooner rather than later.

“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.”
—Deon Fisher, Prison GED Student 

“There’s an assumption on the part of the people that designed the test that we are going to teach all of that basic knowledge and they’re going to be proficient in it,” says DOC Director of Education John Nally.

For students, that will mean more time in the prisons’ basic education and literacy classes before they start studying for the GED.

The DOC also wants to make sure students don’t linger in GED classes without passing the test. Indiana’s prison system receives $200 to $400 in federal funding for each student passing the test in under two months.


Changes to the GED and to prison classroom instruction are part of larger shifts in education. In Indiana, Common Core standards are already being used in mainstream schools in kindergarten through 2nd grade.

But GED teachers like Dawn Grage don’t feel prepared for the Common Core shift, in part because they don’t know what will be on the new test.

To add to the uncertainty, the Department of Workforce Development isn’t sure whether they’ll be offering the GED or whether they will sign a contract with one of the high school equivalency exams other companies have only recently begun developing.

Student GED work

Julie Rawe / StateImpact Indiana

The new GED test will incorporate higher level reading and writing skills. For instance, the DWD says students could be required to write grammatically correct responses to math problems.

“For a number of decades, they’ve been the lone, known alternative to the high school diploma across the country, yet that reality is coming to an end, very very quickly,” says Jackie Dowd, who oversees adult education programs at the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

She says if they choose another test provider, it may be because the company provides better resources for teachers trying to teach to Common Core.

The computerized test is also causing concern. GED students in Indiana can currently opt to take a $70 paper-and-pencil version of the test. That option will disappear next year, and the GED Testing Service will only offer the $120 computerized test.

In the prison system, that will mean building computer labs and changing the way GED classroom instruction works.

Dawn Grage says she knows it’s a small detail, but she says her students in the prison have limited technology experience compared to students on the outside. She wonders whether her students will succeed at passing a timed test if they’re using a calculator that’s on a computer screen rather than one that’s sitting on their desk.

“It’s so simple, yet it’s kind of like driving a car,” Grage says. “If you’re used to driving a little car and they throw you into a big car … it’s tough.”


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