Tuesday, October 15, 2019

TABE and CASAS Extend CCRS from HSE to ABE, but What About EFLs and MSGs?

The title of this post may look like alphabet soup, but that's no excuse for confusion. We've been here before.  The GED was followed by the HiSET and TASC back in 2014, resulting in CCRS aligned tests for all adults seeking HSE credentials in the USA.  However, that higher level of rigor was mostly felt by the adult learners and their teachers who were working at the 8-12th grade reading level.  Now, adult basic education students are being held to the higher standards of problem solving skills than ever before. So, how do educators cope? How do learners continue measurable skill gains (MSGs)?

Highest Common Denominator

These tests are bound to be harder.  Early reports are that students are being bumped down a level and have to raise themselves back up.  If that weren't hard enough, they have to show improvement in areas they haven't been studying before and attain skills that teachers may not be accustomed to teaching.  The TABE 11/12 and CASAS GOALS tests are supposed to measure the same skills as the three HSE test options, which is a silver lining in all of this, because the field has been wanting this allignment (or common denominator, if you will).  The problem for teachers is that it's a higher level of rigor across the board.  ABE students will need to learn complex problem solving strategies that were previously reserved for HSE students.  That means gains could be harder to attain. 

How to ensure gains: One learner at a time

New problems call for new solutions, not the same old approach to teaching and learning.  The TABE/CASAS tests present new problems, but luckily we are in a time of instructional innovation.  The standard classroom approach is now much more malleable, both by teachers and learners.  Based Teachers can create their own hybrid approaches that blend old-school and new-school instruction and practice.  The determining factor is mostly the teacher's aptitude and attitude towards technology and their ability to utilize additional planning and support time for their students' distance learning efforts.  Learners can also speak up in their process and have some say about the mix of hands-on and edtech experiences they're leaning on in their preparation.  So, both teachers and students need to make sure they get the most appropriately blended learning experience to be truly individualized to the learners' needs.   

When in doubt, innovate

Recycled products and approaches are the problem.  Let's be clear about that.  What worked on the old test will not work on these new tests. But books keep getting released with new covers and the same old pages full of practice problems inside. Online learning experiences keep getting relabled and realigned, but area they really teaching to the spirit of the new tests, or do the lesson titles just loosely align to the skills being measured?  Over the past 20yrs, my biggest critique of publisher products in the field of adult ed has always been

The responsibility for innovation actually doesn't fall on the publishers. It's the consumers (instructors) who have to decide what tools they're going to buy and put into practice.  If teachers buy on brand name alone or because of an alignment or a buzz-word on the cover, then they may wind up with old products with new wrappers. Be critical as a consumer.  Innovate your approach to reach higher benchmarks on these more rigorous tests.  There seem to be fewer publishers serving the field of adult ed now, so teachers need to make sure they're getting the best possible products for their needs.

The last and most important frontier for innovation and informed decision-making in the learning process is the learners' realm. They decide how they're going to work, when and with what tools.  Successful blended learning empowers the learner to add in edtech when it suits them, or to ask for hands-on help when appropriate.  The more we can empower learners to ask for help and use the help they're given, the better able they will be to overcome challenges and make gains.

Quick plug: Essential Education has incorporated a Virtual Tutor element into ever lesson in our new ABE Essentials workbooks.  The books were written from scratch for the CCRS and they're a truly innovative and empowering consumable TABE/CASAS prep product.     

The future is uncertain 

What's next?  I think teachers and publishing companies both need to keep raising the bar and the standards for edtech and classroom learning tools and approaches. Change is the only constant.  However, we do have time to get comfortable with the ABE/HSE tests that we've been given.  It's time for innovative initiatives, experimentation, trial and error and adjustment.  We will get better results, but only if we make the necessary changes, whatever those turn out to be.

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