Monday, April 23, 2012

Q & A: The Computer Based 2014 GED Test

Today, the LINCs Assessment list is hosting a panel of GED Testing Service representatives as they field questions about the new test they've been describing with their Assessment Guide.  There's a lot of anxiety about the new test, and I'm hoping that both sides work things out with these sorts of public discussions. In the meantime, I also want to see adult education embrace innovation and meet the growing need for online learning.  So, I'm pulling a few of the questions out, as they come in, so we can debate the topics that are most relevant to computer-based instruction and distance education: 

I certainly understand, and endorse, the need for the computer based test, raising performance standards, and the need for transitioning, but my overriding concern is for the students who lack computer skills.  It seems that by mandating a computer only test based policy, we are placing a large segment of the GED and Adult Education student population at a distinct disadvantage as they prepare to take the test.  In my opinion, a computer version only option for taking the GED test is potentially unfair to this segment of the adult population.  Such a policy could potentially be labeled as discriminatory and could possibly face a legal challenge.(David in Mississippi) 

This is a common concern, so my response is not directed at David.  In fact, I'm glad he described the situation so clearly.  There is a sizable segment of the population that we serve in adult education that either isn't interested in using computers, or we just can't conceive of them becoming proficient enough to be successful as a computer-based tester.  However, I don't know if we can claim that requiring computer skills is unfair. The GED test certifies skills equivalent to those required to graduate from high school. To graduate from high school today, you need to use computers.  Trying to exempt our learners from these skills that are so foreign to them is akin to asking for a time-machine accommodation so they can go back in time to take the GED during the era when they left school.  And even then, they'd need to learn how to work the controls on the time machine (I'm hoping it's part Delorean). 

Okay, that's a cheap joke. But, I'm being silly, because I think that it's puzzling that educators point to learners "lacking skills" as a permanent barrier. And, of course, not every person who is held back by computer illiteracy is generations removed from being a digital native or a millennial, etc. 
The digital divide is also about income and class, probably more so than age.  I would argue that because of this, it is incumbent upon us to teach digital literacy - as a social mission, a civil right issue.  It's another job for us to take on, but these are important career, college and basic citizenship skills.  Refusing to take up this challenge and provide computer skill instruction could invite legal challenge as much as the requirement of a computer-based test.  Computer-based testing is only discriminatory if it's arbitrary, or if it disenfranchises people based on traits that they can't change.  I whole-heartedly believe that we must advocate for our learners by identifying discrimination, but we can also advocate by identifying opportunities.  In this case, I think the latter is our best option, and an increasingly important part of our evolving job descriptions.

A few questions about the technology skills examinees will require to take the new exam:
  • Will there be an interactive tutorial for examinees to practice their technology skills before they register for an exam?
  • What specific skills will examinees need to possess? I assume mouse skills such as clicking and dragging, but are there any others we need to teach our students? 
  • Is there a recommended typing speed (wpm) examinees should have in order to complete the short answer and extended response items in a timely manner? (Evelyn in California) 
An orientation to the new test format is probably in order, but what specifically do we want it to cover that we couldn't teach easily in class? I wouldn't be surprised if such a tutorial is in the works. I'll post the GED Testing Service response to this when it comes in.  However, we also need to teach the skills to be successful using computer-based instruction, which may actually be more demanding than the computer-based testing experience.  And that brings us back to the need for digital literacy.  I have product updates that I could share to address both of these questions, but that would hamper discussion (email me at jason -at- for more info). 

Stay tuned for more excerpts from the discussion, along with my responses.  I hope you'll jump in here (and in my previous posts) to help get some clarity around these issues.  If my reactions are a little pointed, it's not because I'm taking sides.  I mostly want us to push each other to figure out exactly what is possible, where we're stuck, and to figure out where we've got real consensus around the issues that matter most to us and our learners.

GED Testing Service Responses: 

  • Although the administration of the GED® test on computer does require some level of computer familiarity, the skills required are quite modest.  Familiarity with technology is a concept that is acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Education as a component of literacy, and it is important for adults to be successful in career and college to be able to use basic technology. GED Testing Service has made available a tutorial that helps teachers and students become familiar with how the CBT looks and feels. At
    COABE last week, several instructors told us that they use the tutorial in their classroom, assigning students to complete the essay component to learn to interact with and become familiar with the interface. We will also be providing a tutorial for the new assessment. We are confident in the ability of adult learners to use the CBT system.
  • The kinds of skills that are needed are primarily the ones you have identified ­ using the mouse to click on an answer choice or to navigate forwards and backwards in the test, using the mouse to click an object and drag it to another section of the screen, or
    using the mouse to click and drag to select text for copying and pasting. In addition, modest keyboarding skills will be needed to be able to enter text into fill-in-the blank, short answer, and extended response answer boxes on the new test.
  • Yes, an interactive tutorial to help examinees prepare for the computer skills needed for the new test will be launched in July 2013.
  • We do not yet have any recommended typing speeds. After our items are field tested in the summer of 2012, we will be able to make recommendations about how test-takers should best be prepared with the appropriate keyboarding skills.
  • Sample test questions for the 2014 GED® test will be released in July 2012 in our Item Sampler, a web tool that will allow test-takers and adult education professionals to see and interact with representative test content and the types of items they can expect to see on the new assessment. 
The tutorial that GEDTS is talking about is right here on their site. It's the first time I've seen this, and I'm glad it exists. But, I'm guessing that adult educators' fears about approaching computer based testing and instruction are based on experience with learners (and teachers) who appear to be light years from being comfortable using a computer. At best, come test day, they'll feel like a fish out of water, even if they understand the basic procedures for answering questions and progressing through the test. 

One way to address this is to take those learners with a profound level of computer illiteracy, and take them through a protracted digital literacy learning plan, either integrated into or separate from their ABE/GED classes. Otherwise, we're left with the possibility that the computer-based GED test leaves a significant segment of the adult learner population behind. But how big is that segment? If it's a majority, then maybe we can target our outreach to bring in more people who are likely to be successful using technology while learning and during assessments.  There is no law that says we need to spend the majority of our time and resources on the learners who are most difficult to serve.

In Virginia, back in 2005 or so, we had a mandate to double our number of GED passers from 10k per year to 20k as part of then Governor Warner's initiative called Race to GED. After an extensive and expensive statewide marketing campaign, our adult ed programs were flush with learners, but they were mostly ABE level, not candidates for the Fast Track classes that we had planned to help those with 9th grade reading level or above a 9th grade reading level (approx). So, we've got to tailor our message to turn out the people who are best able to benefit from our services. Any suggestions for that kind of word-smithing are appreciated, because I hope to address it in-depth in a future blog post. Virginia, by the way, did go up past 15k GEDs in a year, thanks to the Race to GED campaign. 

(more responses coming - please contribute and come again)


  1. Jason, I believe you bring up good points. I agree with you completely with the tech competencies and equally with the new Math requirements. I am an adult educator, I will teach adults how to use tools to be successful. I am finding that when learners are exposed to technology and use they quickly become adept to its use. But Evelyn has some strong concerns, 1.5 years from the new GED... I'm ready to see some questions samples.

    1. About the question samples How about those examples of the format of the new questions that are provided in the Assessment Guide Chapter 1? They don't speak to the breadth of the content (that's chapter 2, right?), but they make it clear that the material is going to be covered in a very different way on the new test. Curriculum designers and their programmers will have their work cut out for them generating lessons and practice tests any time soon. Do you feel we need 2014 focused lessons now? Can we not work on fundamental Common Core based concepts in the meantime?

  2. Thanks BSquare.
    The new Math requirements are a really interesting topic. Have you heard of The Algebra Project? I'm going do a blog entry about that soon. Basically, they teach algebra in elementary schools because it gives the students the abstract thinking skills needed to integrate technology into their lives. Read more at


Your comment will help build a community of practice (and everybody will love you for it).