Challenges and Solutions to Assisting Older Adults in Completing the GED: A Study of What the Experts Say

Challenges and Solutions to Assisting Older Adults in Completing the GED: A Study of What the Experts Say

Karen E. Brinkley-Etzkorn (University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJAVET.2016100102

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to investigate the challenges and solutions encountered by Adult Basic Education (ABE) programs currently serving older adults seeking a GED credential in states where this is the only high school equivalency option available. The following questions guided this research: (1) what are the perceived characteristics and needs of older students seeking a high school equivalency diploma?; (2) how do GED programs promote the success of their older students?; and (3) what are the future service and planning needs of these GED programs with regard to this population? To address these questions, a series of 55 one-on-one, semi-structured interviews with experts across 32 GED-only states was carried out. Findings revealed a consistent, shared experience in terms of overall attitudes and challenges among these experts, as well as a variety of innovative practices and recommendations for assisting older learners.
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Introduction

The world’s most developed nations, including the United States, continue to experience an increase in the average age of their populations (Wagner, Hassanein, & Head, 2010). This has occurred alongside a greater need for individuals to learn new and increasingly advanced technologies, which have become a way of life for many individuals (Tacken et al., 2000). As the adult education landscape continues to evolve at a rapid pace, two changes that have been particularly notable during the last three years include the creation of a new computerized GED test and the introduction of educational competitors such as Educational Testing Service (ETS)’s High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) and McGraw Hill’s Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC).

As of 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that approximately 12% of adults ages 45 to 64, and nearly 24% over the age 65, had not earned a high school diploma (“Educational Attainment,” 2012). However, GED Testing Service reported that same year that adults over the age of 50 accounted for less than 4% of all test candidates (Annual Statistical Report, 2012). During 2013, prior to the new computerized version of the test, GED Testing Service also reported noticeably lower passing rates among older adults in the United States as well: ages 40-49 (65.2% pass rate), ages 50-59 (59.5% pass rate), and 60+ years of age (51.4% pass rate), in comparison to the youngest test candidate groups, ages 16-18 (85.7% pass rate), and ages 19-24 (77.1% pass rate) (Annual Statistical Report, 2013). Since the alternative assessments were only introduced in 2014, and the scores were still being normed and adjusted during that first year, sufficient data was still not readily available for meaningful reporting and comparisons at the time of this study.

However, researchers have focused specifically on the new GED test that was released in 2014; these more recent studies have drawn attention not only to the extensive changes and related challenges, but also to perceptions and attitudes toward the new test, and even the professional development needs of educators to be able to teach for this test (Adams, 2015; Brinkley-Etzkorn & Ishitani, 2016; Brinkley-Etzkorn & Skolits, 2014; Hoffman, Wine, & McKinney, 2013). Based on the existing scholarly research, available test-related data, and what is currently known about the need for older adults to hold a high school equivalency (HSE) credential, this raises an important question for consideration in the current adult basic education (ABE) context: Given the high numbers of older adults in need of a HSE credential, their traditionally lower attempt and pass rates, and well-documented differences among younger and older learners, what are programs and teachers doing in the wake of the relatively recent changes in ABE to assist this unique student population?

Based on the need for information and understanding in this area, the purpose of this study was to investigate challenges and successes experienced in GED-only states with regard to how programs serve older adult learners and ensure their success. Specifically, the following three research questions guided this study:

  • 1.

    What are the perceived characteristics and needs of older students who seek a high school equivalency diploma?

  • 2.

    How do GED programs promote the success of their older students?

  • 3.

    What are the future service and planning needs of these GED programs with regard to this population?

To address these research questions, this paper will begin with an overview of the relevant literature to establish a framework for the present study. Next, the methods and procedures will be reviewed, followed by the findings and related discussion.

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