By Terrah Baker
Ever heard the story of the starfish? I hadn’t either, until I talked with Deputy Director Jim Smith of Adult Education in the Arkansas Department of Career Education. Here’s how it goes, as he told it: “An old guy is walking down the beach after a bad storm and sees a young girl doing cartwheels. He goes up to her and says ‘what are you doing,’ and she says ‘I’m saving these star fish, they’re all going to die.’ The old man says ‘Darlin’, you know how many miles of beach there are, suns fixin’ to come out and it’s going to be a hot day, what difference can you make?” She bent down, picked up a star fish and threw it in the ocean and said, ‘It will make a difference to this one.’ (FACT: 470,000 adults in Arkansas are without high school credentials. In 2012, 7,597 tested, 7,521 testers earned their GED)
For Smith, the young girl is the teacher of adult education and the star fish are her students — the ocean is society. The reasons adults, and teenagers, walk through the doors of the Adult and Community Education Center (ACEC) on College Avenue in Fayetteville to earn their GED varies greatly. Some come from bad families, Smith explained, and had no choice but to drop out to escape their environment. Sometimes it’s dependent on a raise, or a job.
Many people had to leave school at no choice of their own, said director of ACEC in Fayetteville Kathy Spigarelli. She pointed out that one in 10 children in Arkansas have a parent that is or has been incarcerated, which often leads to unstable environments. In fact, there are 25,000 people in Washington County who don’t have a high school diploma, according to the last census. (FACT: The 2010 U.S. Census indicates that more than 39 million adults (18%) aged 16 and older in the U.S. lack a high school credential and are not enrolled in any educational program.)
These people aren’t stupid, said Smith, and at the time they made the decision to end their education, it seemed like the right one. But what they come to realize later in life is a GED is almost always necessary in today’s job market.
“I will see people who dropped out at 16 and weren’t successful with us. Then I see them at 19 or 20 and they’re like ‘why did I not listen? I can’t get this job, I can’t get this raise,” Spigarelli explained. (FACT: In Arkansas in 2012, 37% of GED testers were 16-18, 28% 30 – 59, with an average of seven years out of school.)
Smith’s office has a mission of informing how a GED can benefit someone’s life. Their message is “Up Your Income” by $8,000 a year after earning a GED. Without it, individuals are more likely to live in severe poverty or homelessness, receive government assistance and be dependent on others who may not have their best interests in mind. As of a few months before Jan. 1, 2014, Spigarelli’s message was that the GED was changing, she said.
Changes To GED Testing
As of Jan. 1, the GED test changed in several ways, bringing it in-line with 21st century technology, education and business dealings. One, it’s going to computers; two, it’s now being offered through a for-profit corporation using grants from the U.S. government and personal income; three, it’s being catered to common core curriculum; four, it now costs.
The computer testing system will allow students to take one subject test at a time, save it indefinitely and return to take the rest at a later time, until all tests are complete. It will also allow for Pearson Vue, the for-profit rolling out the computerized tests, to grade writing samples using artificial intelligence.
Pearson Vue contracted with the U.S. government to take the test digital. They’re an affiliate of Pearson — the world’s most profitable curriculum provider to public and private education entities. They trace their roots back to 1724 and started selling textbooks in the elementary market in 1909. (FACT: the GED test has been offered for 70 years.) Today, Pearson Vue operates testing facilities around the world, and touts the most secure and efficient networks. So when a student completes one subject test, they can be assured it won’t be lost, Smith said.
Concentrating on individual subjects allows the students to be more in-line with Common Core Curriculum, which is meant to prepare Arkansas students for college and a career. It has been ridiculed by some as being too strict, not allowing for variation in thought and personality, but proponents say it does what it’s meant to do.
“We have to think of curriculum now as depth of knowledge rather than just sequencing. That’s the way common core is developed. Rather than a lot of surface, you’ll go in depth,” Spiragelli said.
Which brings us to cost. For an individual paying out of pocket, the new Pearson Vue GED test will cost $120. For the government, that cost will be $92 per tester. They’ll pay this price through a grant-voucher program through the Arkansas Department of Career Education. It’s expected they’ll be able to cover the over 7,000 testers that turn out each year, although they are uncertain about future grant cycles which begin in July 2014. (FACT: In 2012, more than 702,000 adults worldwide took at least one of the five GED content area tests.)
“It will cost because GED testing services have partnered with a for-profit, Pearson Vue, to deliver this computer-based test, but if you come to an Adult Ed. Center, you pass the practice test, you attend 20 hours and we put the voucher in and then it’s free,” Spigarelli said.
Adult Education Center
The ACEC in Fayetteville offers more than just GED classes. They have English as a second language and citizenship courses, career specialty certifications, high school to college math transition classes and more.
To learn more about the ACEC, their programs or how you can volunteer to help adults in your community further their knowledge and education, visit their Facebook at Fayetteville Adult and Community Education or schoolcenter.fayar.net/education/school/school.php?sectiondetailid=230.