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New high school equivalency exam puts students to the test

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Indiana’s general education diploma has been replaced with an Indiana High School Equivalency Diploma, and the change is far more than semantics.

Students preparing for the GED once sat quietly in McDowell Education Center with math workbooks, but not anymore. They’re now interacting with each other and the teacher.

It’s an environment director Andrea Quick hopes will prepare the students for the new high school equivalency exam, which replaced the GED on Jan. 2. She said the new exam focuses on Indiana’s Common Core state standards and better measures college and career readiness.

“Not only are we preparing them for the test, but we’re now preparing them for career pathways and going out to work,” Quick said. “Our classes are more than just test preparation.”

The exam, named Test Assessing Secondary Completion by its creator CTB/McGraw-Hill, requires teachers to rethink the way they prepare students.

“We’re talking with (students) more, thinking about how to connect them with resources and how to get them a job,” Quick said.

Although the changes are significant, they aren’t sudden. Quick said learning center teachers have been revamping the teaching style for three to five years because students were demanding a more interactive classroom.

“People vote with their feet,” she said. “If we’re not meeting their needs, they won’t come back. And if we don’t have people, we don’t have funding, and we don’t have jobs for our teachers.”

Beginning this month, however, McDowell will find out how well the center has made the transition to teaching the Common Core curriculum — and there are many unknowns.

Will students be too scared to take the new test? How will the new test affect McDowell’s pass rate, which in turn affects funding? Will employers and colleges take the Indiana High School Equivalency Diploma more seriously now?

There are also plenty of misconceptions about the new test, said Nickie Nolting, director of professional development for the center.

A common rumor she has heard is the new exam is harder than the GED, but she said that is not the case.

“It’s aligned to what those students were capable of doing,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a harder test, I just think it’s going to be different.”

Other students have heard the test will be offered only on the computer, which Nolting said also is untrue.

A paper-and-pencil version of the test will still be offered.

But there’s still an understanding the center will introduce technology skills and encourage students to take the test by computer. Adding a computer literacy class to McDowell’s offerings is being considered.

McDowell has received a grant to remodel a computer lab, but that will put the lab out of commission for six months. Quick said there are ways to work around it, such as using laptops in the classroom or scheduling night classes.

“It’s not going to be easy, but the six-month challenge is well worth the sacrifice,” she said.

The new test also might eliminate some prior bias about the GED, which some employers and colleges might view as a lesser accomplishment when compared with a diploma.

“I think there has always been this stigma with the GED,” Quick said. “But this is an equivalency diploma, and they (students) will receive something that looks like a diploma from the state of Indiana.”

Education centers across the state are informing large employers and higher education institutions that equivalency-diploma holders are held to the same standard as Indiana high school students.

“It’s a chance to retell our story,” Quick said. “They’ve just provided an assessment that’s more in alignment with what we’re doing.”

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