More rigorous Common Core exam intimidates adult GED students, teachers

Bye-bye multiple choice, hello number lines and “analytic responses to source texts.”

A more rigorous GED Test, adopted in January, has some adult students and teachers worried about passing.

A more rigorous GED Test, adopted in January, has some adult students and teachers worried about passing.


The final 90 days of 2013 were a mad scramble for Tony Marine and his students.

The Elk Grove Adult & Community Education employee teaches a General Educational Development test course for mostly high-school dropouts just getting out of jail or prison. These students face an uphill battle to get their lives back on track. As if that’s not difficult enough, this was the year the national GED Testing Service aligned its exam with more rigorous standards called Common Core.

Bye-bye multiple choice, hello number lines and “analytic responses to source texts.”

Common Core is intended to position students for greater success in the real world. It’s the new No Child Left Behind Act, but supposedly better.

But transitioning to these new standards, with their unfamiliar terms and increased focus on logic and reasoning skills, hasn’t been easy, even for the young and more adaptable. (Just ask comedian Louis C.K.)

“It’s a whole different way of analyzing or working through problems,” said GED instructor Tereze Lear, with the Sacramento County Office of Education.

So the standards have been absolutely terrifying to older, less-fortunate students with more riding on the GED Test’s outcome.

“If you don’t have a GED, laborer is as high as you can climb [in the construction field],” said assistant division probation chief David Semon.

While education experts stop short of saying the test is downright tougher to pass—the test is “aligned with today’s high school standards,” according to GED Testing Service, which built the new exam—the learning curve could prove steeper for people who have been out of a formal-educational setting for a while.

Statewide, GED Testing Service says 44,231 people completed the equivalency test in 2012, with nearly 30,201 of them—or 68.3 percent—earning a passing score. About 5.5 million adults didn’t have a high-school certificate in California that year.

The average age of test-passers has risen slightly over the years, to almost 26 years of age in 2012.

Probation’s class of GED students range in age from 18 to 60, with many in their mid- to late-30s, according to Semon.

They not only learn how to craft a geometric proof, but also how to leave street drama and gang beefs at the door. “They’ve learned how to become students,” Lear said.

“This is voluntary,” Semon added. “There’s a line.”

Most of the students who show up are serious about hitting the books and forgoing previous bad habits.

“All that past stuff is done now. We’re all here to take care of business,” said Brian Scott Aduca, a probationer who got one of his class’s highest GED scores, before it switched to Common Core. He said the troublemakers quickly learn they’re unwelcome and eventually drop out. “They choose not to be there because they’re not vibing,” he said.

For probationer Aaron Glen Metcalf, who was preparing for the test in April, he says he noticed a jump in severity in the math section. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Yeah, this is different,” he said.

Which is why instructors like Marine, at one of the Sacramento County Probation Department’s three adult day reporting centers, rushed to help students complete all sections of the GED test by December 31, 2013. With an accommodating test site and wrangling by Marine, 16 students made it through crunch time. At work the next morning, Marine found one of his graduates waiting for him.

“Well, how do you feel?” Marine asked. The man hadn’t gotten Marine’s voice mail message letting him know he got his GED certificate after 20 years of trying. Hearing the news, the student sat down and put a hand on his cheek. Then came the tears.

“You don’t know how long I’ve been working on this,” he said.

“Oh, yes I do,” Marine answered. “Now knock it off, or I’m going to start crying, too.”

GED Testing Service says that while it’s implementing the new content now, it’s keeping the passing standard matched with the performance of graduating high-school seniors in 2013, who weren’t instructed in career- and college-ready content.

According to the California Department of Education, the high-school dropout rate in Sacramento County dropped to 11.3 percent in 2013, down 2.3 percent from the previous year.