GED Math and the Accuplacer: How Much Can We Reasonably Take On?

by Cathy Coleman

Have you heard about the Accuplacer and the GED? Recent research indicates there is a rather large gap between GED math and what’s tested on the Accuplacer (the test used by colleges to place students in college level or developmental level math). Students can pass the GED and still get stuck in developmental courses, taking and failing them over and over, using up precious financial aid, getting increasingly discouraged, and eventually giving up on their college dreams. This presents a problem for many of our college bound students, and our field is wisely beginning to talk about the issue.

So. how is this related to working conditions in ABE? For me, the recent buzz about this issue illustrates important issues about us as a field – about the questions we ask… and the questions we don’t.

When I heard all the discussion focused on how teachers should re-think what we cover in math, I was concerned – not because I think the issue isn’t worthy of consideration (it absolutely is!), but because of what I didn’t hear. Among other things, I didn’t hear anyone talk about how any of the proposed solutions might impact working conditions in a field already tasked with an awful lot. It seemed like the assumption was: This is what we do in ABE – we take it on.

I’m proud to be part of a field that cares so much about our students. I want to be a part of the solution, but being a part of the solution is not what I was hearing.

Based on my experience as a GED teacher with a long history in ABE, I’d like to suggest we consider the following as we grapple with this complex problem:

  • ABE is a part time field with a lot of turnover – largely due to low pay and lack of benefits. Teaching math beyond the GED will require a fair amount of staff development. With turnover such as it is, how will we retain the teachers who get trained to do this level of math teaching?
  • From a classroom teacher’s standpoint, having students who are beyond GED level math may make for a tough math class. Simultaneously meeting the needs of pre- and post- GED math students will be quite challenging.
  • And last but not least –how do we define success as a GED teacher? If getting a GED as the result of participation in a GED class is no longer considered “success,” where are we? Where does it end? Are we only considered “successful” if the student enrolls in college? If they pass the Accuplacer? If they get a Bachelors? If they buy a home? If they get a job? How much can we reasonably be expected to take on in a 2-3 night a week class?

The average part time adult educator is already feeling overwhelmed. Most of us balance multiple jobs and multiple roles in order to stay in adult education. We care about our students and understand that they need more than the GED, but at some point don’t we have to look at what we can feasibly do given our resources and the structure of our field?

I would like to suggest that we work to become part of the solution along with our math colleagues on the college side. The issue is complex and requires more than what we alone have the capacity to do. That needs to be part of the conversation.

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  44. Cathy says:

    Thanks for contributing everyone. I haven’t checked on here in a while and so just saw these. I agree Kate with what you said about a real lack of problem solving abilities and persistence related to solving problems. We do a lot with that in my current math classes. The challenge is how to create a math class which is rich and which truly builds real understanding of important concepts and abilties like problem solving and not a crash course on how to pass the test(s) and quickly gain an “outcome.” It comes down to depth vs breadth. A long while ago, I read an article given to me as part of the SABES math trainings that had to do with math in other countries and how it’s taught. One striking difference is depth vs breadth. Other countries deal deeply with problems. I like that and try to do that in my classes.

    I know we all do our best in a situtation with multiple, sometimes contradictory, goals.

  45. Kate Davini Belko says:

    I run an adult education learning and training center. I work primarily with youth but Title I adults as well. Because we accept state and federal funds, we are required to document a great deal of “outcomes.” Recently (July 1, 2011) the successful outcomes were revamped to include attainment of a GED. A separate, additional outcome is entered post-secondary training, which may or may not include college. For those who are interested in college (and already have a high school diploma or GED) we offer “remediation” — to brush up on the reading and math skills that most training programs will require, and are measured by way of a placement exam. Of the students who have learned to “do” the math, I see a definite lack of 1. problem solving abilities, and/or 2. the persistence needed to solve, what they perceive as, a difficult question.

    I don’t have the answer to this Adult Education dilemma, I’m merely contributing my observations. Maybe it’s time to question the role of colleges. Is it the assumption that “anyone who ‘wants’ to go to college, should be able to?” If so, I surely do not agree with that. I also don’t agree to “teaching to the test,” whether that test is MCAS, the GED test or a placement test. I do agree that motivation and problem-solving are in high demand yet low supply. But please don’t hang that statistic on adult education practitioners alone. I am in complete agreement with you on that!

  46. Sue says:

    Hi cathy.

    Nice to meet you on line. We’re doing this in computer class.


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