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A Berkshire Community College perspective Liz Recko-Morrison, M.Ed. SUPPORTING GED STUDENTS AT COMMUNITY COLLEGES

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Why this population? For the past fourteen years, I have served as the Coordinator of Assessment and Testing and the GED Examiner at Berkshire Community College. As the college as a whole has looked at issues of placement, retention, and interacted more closely with our K-12 counterparts, I’ve wondered what about the students who earned their GED.

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At Berkshire CC Eight to ten percent of the students who enroll are GED Graduates, on average. We administer the GED to between 350 and 380 students per year. We have a strong collegial relationships with the Adult Basic Education/GED Preparation programs.

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Why do these students leave school? The reasons are quite individuated. Some students are bored while others are overwhelmed in a high school environment. Some students have personal and family issues. Others have not fit into their particular secondary school culture. Some left school many, many years ago while others have been out only a few months.

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Students decide to earn their GED for many reasons To enter higher education To obtain a job or a promotion To encourage their children to persist in earning their education To enter the military

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How does one earn the GED? To earn a GED, a person must pass five tests: Language Arts: Writing Social Studies Science Language Arts: Reading Mathematics

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To receive a GED One must earn at least 2,250 points out of a possible 4,000. Your score on each subtest (regardless of point total) is at least 410. Each subtest is scored on a point scale,.

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On to college The cohort for my study consists of 90 students who were GED graduates and also took the placement test (Accuplacer) in preparation for enrollment during the fall 2010 semester. At Berkshire CC, we administer the Reading Comprehension, WritePlacer, and Elementary Algebra to everyone.

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Accuplacer Mathematics Based upon their Algebra score, students may see an additional math subtest. Students see the College Level Math subtest, if their Algebra score is 90 or higher. Students with an Algebra score of 35 or lower also take the Arithmetic test.

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College Placement Scores Reading: 73 Non-remedial (Study Skills) Writing: WritePlacer score of 6 or higher and Reading score of 70 or higher, or WritePlacer score of 5, if Reading score is 80 or higher. Math: El. Algebra score of 90 or higher. There are departmental exceptions to this range, but this is the cut score most students must meet.

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Reading Total cohort: 743 students 73.7% GED cohort: 90 students 86% These percentages represent both college level and the non-remedial group. Surprising …not really, for the GED is in many ways a reading test. You can’t do well without having developed at least basic reading comprehension skills.

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Writing Total incoming cohort: 654 students 52.3% GED incoming cohort: 90 students 56.6% GED students have some experience in writing a timed essay for the Language Arts: Writing test, although the complexity of the topics presented on that test is not at the same level of sophistication.

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Math Placements Total Incoming Cohort n=843 GED Cohort n=90 College Level Math13.2% 1.1% MAT %11.1% MAT %31.1% Total Algebra54.4%42.2% Basic Math31.8%56.7%

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Math Disparity GED graduates are at a marked disadvantage in math when compared to their peers entering high schools with a high school diploma! This disadvantage is of particular concern because it results in requiring students who have demonstrated a propensity to leave school to do more remedial work.

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Why is the disparity so pronounced in mathematics? In general, mathematics skills are more quickly lost if not used. More pointedly, however, the issue is with the current level of math tested on the G.E.D.

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Accuplacer Math Content: Elementary Algebra Polynomials Equations in two variables Factoring Graphing

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But what do GED preparation programs stress? Arithmetic Geometry Applied math Algebra in one variable

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Why? The focus to date has been to teach students the skills they need to pass the GED math test. It’s been accepted practice that if you give students solid Arithmetic skills, they’ll do fine both on the GED and at community college.

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The problem This approach immediately creates an underclass of incoming students because it absolutely and unequivocally assumes that all GED students are going to be remedial math students. If you aren’t teaching more than what amounts to pre-algebra, how can the result be otherwise?

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Perseverance Of the original GED cohort of ninety students, eighty-four actually enrolled for the fall 2010 semester for at least one course.

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Semester to semester persistence SemesterFall 2010Spring 2011Fall 2011Spring 2012 Number of cohort students Percentage of fall 2010 cohort 100%67.9%41.7%28.6%

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Placement scores for the twenty-four students still enrolled Reading: College level: 18 Study Skills: 3 21 (87.5% met Reading pre-req. for coursework)

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Writing 1 student placed into Advanced Composition (ENG 103) 12 placed at the ENG 101 level 13 students (54.2% met Writing pre-requisite for college work.

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Mathematics One student (4.2%) placed at the college level. What’s interesting is that fourteen students who persisted placed at the developmental algebra level, not the arithmetic level. (58.3%)

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Math Placement and persistence I find it no coincidence that the students who persisted to the fourth semester have higher math placements than did the GED cohort as a whole. This lends some support initial support to the notion that GED students need exposure to more math than is on the current GED test.

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Credits GED students vary as widely as do their total incoming cohort when it comes to credits earned. The mean number of college credits earned by those cohort members still enrolled was twenty-four credits. The totals varied form a low of three to a high of thirty-eight.

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Supports Students in Adult Basic Education programs will benefit from early exposure to college placement testing. In Berkshire County, the ABE programs work very closely with the Transition to College program (Project Link) on our campus. Students take the mathematics portion of the Accuplacer as a part of their GED curriculum. Directed instruction in mathematics is then presented as a part of their studies.

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Project Link This transitional program provides an introduction to college in general and Berkshire Community College specifically for students who meet its entry criteria, which include being a GED or Adult Diploma recipient, a Massachusetts resident, as well as having been a student at one of the county ABE programs. Students must place into at least one remedial course.

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Transitional programs During the Link semester, students begin course work in developmental writing and mathematics and participate in seminars designed to acquaint them with the college’s offerings. The program coordinator/advisor meets with each student and engages in relatively intrusive advising to potentiate success.

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Link successes Project Link has seen its students graduate with certificates and Associate’s degrees. Many have transferred to four year schools. In this study’s cohort, three of the twenty-four students who have persisted into the fourth semester were link participants. (75% of Link students in the study are enrolled this semester.)

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Beyond the benefits of transitional programs GED students are a slightly different type of community college student. Much like non-traditional students, they often arrive on campus with “impostor syndrome”; they often still can’t believe they’ve actually earned a high school credential, much less are sitting in a college classroom.

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Common Mistakes GED graduates make More so than students who enter from high school, GED graduates are often all too willing to take on more work than anyone could do. Over ten percent of the cohort who started in fall 2010 registered for more than twelve credits their first semester, often starting with what any of us would consider a heavy load.

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If I just try to blend into the crowd In my experience, GED students are more reticent to ask for help or initially seek out tutoring. I remember one student in a psychology section I teach asking to meet with me. She began telling me about being, “only a GED graduate” and apologizing for needing me to explain an assignment to her! With a bit of help along the way, this student passed Intro. Psychology with an A- (and I’m not an easy grader.)

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GED students don’t necessarily speak the language of the academy Terms like credits, GPA, semesters, major/program, FAFSA, core subjects, not to mention the name of the newest distance learning platform are our jargon, not theirs initially. I asked a student who happened to be a GED graduate why he was attempting fifteen credits the first semester. His response was that he “didn’t know what a credit was so he’d just nodded when the advisor said fifteen.”

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What can we do to help our GED students be more successful? Students need to learn the basics of college-speak. I’ve often thought that a GED student only orientation would be exceedingly helpful. In an ideal world, GED transitional programs would be funded at a much higher level so that more students could avail themselves of their services. Every community college ought to have just such a program.

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Programmatic Suggestions GED students would have an advisor, at least for the first year, who would understand both the GED itself as well as college offerings. This advisor would meet more frequently with the student than when courses are chosen. The GED advisor would host workshops for all his/her advisees throughout the semester to aid in skill development.

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In my perfect world First semester GED students at the community college would be part of a learning community. Two courses would be team taught to assist students to make connections between related content areas. In my wildest dreams, the GED advisor would be one of the faculty members for this learning community. A service learning component could be included to help the students see themselves as contributing members of the community; being of service may

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GED students Many come to our institutions with a bruised vision of themselves as learners. While I can’t speak about anywhere than my own area, it’s my observation that ABE programs are relatively small and student centered. Even a school like Berkshire CC with an enrollment of 2400 can seem overwhelming. Linking GED graduates to existing services and developing new ones to meet their needs are the responsibility of those of us at community colleges.

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Small Groups I’ve given one of you in each group the description of a GED graduate. Please come up with a list of services that you think your particular student will need. Do those services exist on your campuses? How will the student find out about them. Take five-ten minutes to talk about this in your group. Choose a spokesperson. Each group will describe their student and what may be necessary for them to succeed.

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Questions/Comments Thank you very much for the opportunity to present to you today. It’s been an honor for me to do so. Liz Recko-Morrison Coordinator of Assessment and Testing Berkshire Community College 1350 West Street Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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