August 17, 2017

Skills Packets Won't Help You Now (or ever...)

Recently, I was talking to some adult education folks about needed revisions to their High School Equivalency courses. It quickly became an opportunity to discuss the importance of ensuring the Instructional Shifts lived in all of our instructional materials and classroom practices...

High School Equivalency (HSE) courses are mostly test-prep, designed to helps students take and pass various HSE exams (such as the GED, HiSET, or TASC). Until the recent past, these tests were built around skills assessment. With the adoption of the CCR Standards for Adult Education by most programs throughout the US, this has markedly changed. These HSE exams are now largely knowledge-based tests. GED’s website states the exam has four subjects and tests in the following areas: “Math - Quantitative & algebraic problem solving; Science - Life science, physical science, earth and space science; Social Studies - Civics and government, U.S. history, economics, geography and the world; Reasoning Through Language Arts - Ability to read closely, write clearly, and edit and understand written text”.  Gone are the days that skills packets have any hope of preparing adult education students to pass the GED (did they really ever?). As a test of knowledge, HSE preparation courses must be based on the learning of content through the reading of complex text and engagement with corresponding tasks. Skills packets won't help you now.

To be ready to take and pass any HSE exam, students will need some amount of background knowledge in and familiarity with the various content areas and disciplines mentioned above. Therefore, programs must provide test preparation in the form of content and text-based materials that provide not only valuable knowledge in the areas of literature and science but also some familiarity with question types and test-taking strategies. (And even better yet, in doing so programs are in line with the Instructional Shifts necessitated by CCSS and CCRS). Listed below are some examples of what HSE test prep courses and practices might look like in an alternative environment (a word of warning, lots of exemplars here from RISE Academy!):
  • Examples of how to create instructional block around both test-preparation and building of various knowledge types can be seen the HSE 100 Literacy course materials developed by RISE Academy for Adult Achievement, available here. Designated for use in a single, 8-week HSE course (for the high school equivalency tests: TASK, HiSET, or GED), these materials focus on the literacy, content, and test-taking needs for students signed-up for any non-math HSE test.
  • Examples of providing targeted, differentiated HSE prep for students not yet ready to enroll in RISE's HSE 100 Lit course (students with low level TABE results), students have the opportunity to take 1 to 2 quarters of HSE 90 (HSE 90 1 or HSE 90 2) prior to enrolling in HSE 100. These 90 courses have a similar literacy, content, and test-taking preparation focus as the 100 courses, but provide materials at a lower reading level to meet students’ needs.
  • If further, more elaborate, content area focus is needed, programs often provide single content area courses as a preparation (for either Adult High School Diploma or HSE preparation). See example of US Government course maps from RISE.
  • As a resources for teachers across various content areas, RISE has created and implemented across different courses these academic literacy strategies. Professional development has been provided for each and all have been strategically placed in various RISE curriculum maps to support reading, writing, and speaking about complex text.

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