by Guest blooger Gina Marie De rosier-Cook, Joliet Junior College
The problem: Since the implementation of the new test we had seen a significant decrease in the number of students taking any part of the test. We thought the reasons students were not taking the tests were fear of the computerized test, not having a credit card to pay, lack of computer access in the home, the content was much harder than the previous test, limited availability (there wasn’t any night or weekend testing times in our area) and lack of computer skills. We polled a large sample of students asking why they were not taking the test and the following top three reason emerged:
- fear of harder content,
- fear that the test was computerized,
- and fear of the unknown.
Ultimately they were just very scared to go and take the test. We needed to shake off the “new test fear”. Word travels fast in the community and our students had a preconceived notion that the test was ridiculously hard and no one would pass. I partly blame the lingo of the close out campaign because it was stated over and over “Test now! The next one will be harder”.
We realized that we need to not only hold the students’ hand through this process but guide them in a systematic way that would allow us to utilize the resources in a more precisely focused way. I will take some time to outline what we did. Please keep in mind we are a larger program and our way is not the only way. We sat down pooled our resources and came up with a process that would possibly help the students. This was called our “High Level Action Plan”. We knew we all needed buy in so it could work. No part or person involved could be involved half-heartedly.
Planning–In the world of adult education, we are good at planning. Most of our grants require us to make a plan, change the plan when it doesn’t work, and rewrite the plan once we have learned from our mistakes. Most importantly, we need to be persistent and reach the goal. This is what goal setting is all about and we knew we were pros at it so why not utilize those skills. We had students partiicpate in goal setting workshops during their first class period where they nailed down the concept of “Goals are just dreams with deadlines”. We discussed and wrote out action plans. These action plans would go through step by step how we would make the goal work. We also discussed how to handle bumps in the road and how to modify the plan. Then we made sure that someone, usually the teacher, would offer friendly reminders on the goals. We stopped referring to when you are testing and said things like how are you doing with your goals or what is your next step?
|Goal One||Step 1||Step 2||Step 3|
|Pass math by 12/1||Take practice test
Create study plan
|Do lessons in i-pathways
|Take first test by
Personal connections–We are adult educators so we are natural born cheerleaders. We need to focus our efforts better so we assigned jobs. The teacher is the cheerleader. He/She has constant contact with them via text and email, Twitter and Facebook. They keep detailed notes in a spreadsheet for anyone to access to get the information. They also send out weekly reminders of goals. “Don’t forget you need to schedule your test this week”, or “You have fallen behind in your i-Pathways progress, need help”. This opens the door for teachers to hear about retention issues that we could possibly help them with. It also gives the students someone to support them.
The transition specialist makes sure they feel loved. She visits the class and talks about college. She invites them to meet one on one to do FAFSA or apply to college. She also invites them to college activities such as manufacturing day, orientations to different programs, information sessions on certificates and even class auditing to see if they like college.
Administration also goes into the class and chats with students. They email biweekly or for milestones in the class such as when everyone has one test done. I brought pizza to celebrate. These emails are easy to do because they can be recycled semester to semester. It allows the students to see that not only do they count but that the staff are humans too! I have gotten more feedback then I imagined; questions, comments, concerns and even thank yous.
TESTS, tests, and more tests–By the end of the second or third week of class they take the Practice Compass Test. It is done in the same place they take the GED, it is computerized, taking the actual compass is part of enrolling into college and so it is another step towards transitioning. Most importantly it gives the student practice testing in a similar environment as the GED and dealing with test stress or anxiety. The results of the practice compass test will give them another study plan letting them know where they are weaker and need to improve their skills. This helps not only with the GED but also helps move them out of Dev. Ed classes.
GED online practice tests (GED Ready) is done during class time because we utilize it as a tool to get the ball rolling. When a student is finished with the test if they score “likely to pass” they are pushed to sign up for a test that day.
They are then assigned the i-Pathways modules and given the tracking forms where they highlight the modules that GED Ready has suggested. They work on the lessons at home and are getting a great deal of exposure to computerized activities and having several subject options in i-Pathways allows them to take more ownership in what they will study. We joke with our students that i-Pathways is at your fingertips because it is available on their phones.
Constitution testing–This is done in class during the first half of class. It allows a small success. Our testing center comes out the classroom to administer to the students so they have “friends” with them for the first test.
Test prep sessions–This was just rebranding. We changed the name of the previously offered tutoring sessions to call them test prep sessions. The students suddenly saw value in them and always want to go during the weeks prior to testing.
Transition to college– This is not an option, the whole class they are discussing going to college, contextualized learning activities from different areas of study. They create a transition plan with our transition specialist. We also encourage all the students to make one on one advising sessions. They take a tour of the college and are invited to the open house. College is possible for everyone and we will help you get there. We found that using this approach makes it appear to be a natural transition.
Success- The numbers in our program have been steadily increasing over the last couple cohorts. This is due to the systematic changes we made and the consistency in which we reinforced them. We are continuing to make changes to the implementation plans when we see a need. We also have seen a very high number of students making a direct transition to our college. This ultimately has been a very successful program for us and our student population.