Change is good ... We’ll go first!

Cliff Vancura/Durango Herald

As with schools across America, the Durango Adult Education Center is facing major change. Our executive director, Paulette Church, is retiring next spring after 14 years of extraordinary leadership.

Paulette grew the DAEC into a successful literacy hub that includes GED, English for Speakers of Other Languages, Del Alma, corrections education, college transition and a respected child-care program. Replacing Paulette is impossible, but we will do our best, as that’s always our goal for our students.

Along with staff changes, the GED – General Educational Development – team faces a new version of the test; GED 2014 will reflect many of the curricular changes we are seeing in public education. The current test was introduced in January 2002 and is outdated. The changes are based on the Common Core State Standards, with Colorado being one of 45 states to have adopted them. An effort coordinated by the National Governors’ Association, the Common Core State Standards Initiative says these standards “were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators and experts, to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce.”

Now, whether you earn a high school diploma in Colorado, New York or California, you will meet the same standards. For the GED to remain meaningful and credible, it, too, needs to raise standards so that employers and colleges will have authentic “evidence of readiness” from GED grads.

The new version is more demanding for our students and instructors. For one, it’s a computer-based test – no more paper and pencil. It’s interactive and can accurately test “cognitive complexity” ability and vocabulary that appears across a variety of disciplines. Reading and writing are combined in one three-hour test that showcases students’ reasoning ability to evaluate arguments and find evidence for claims or recognize unsupported claims in source material.

Math has its own test, focusing on quantitative and algebraic problem-solving and is embedded in the science and social studies tests, particularly in data analysis and statistics. Students might be given an answer and expected to show how they arrived at it or supply missing data. Science requires inference skills that are needed in the academic world and workplace.

Social studies content is typical of topics covered in high schools and relevant for an adult population, based on CCSS and the national standards for history.

It’s not a multiple-choice world any more, and three of the four tests now require writing with paragraphs and extended responses. All teachers at DAEC will be reading and writing teachers from now on, in part because writing ability is considered the strongest predictor of career and college readiness.

Since 1942 when the test was developed to help veterans who enlisted before graduating high school or wanted to earn a diploma after leaving the military, the GED has been responsive to the needs of adult learners. One in every seven Americans with high school credentials earned the GED, as well as one in 20 college students. In 2011, 10,693 Coloradans passed the GED, an economic benefit of $5.5 billion in higher income from taxes and decreased expenses for social services. If you or a friend or family member started on a GED but did not complete it, come into DAEC and register.

We’ve also expanded our outreach at La Plata County Jail with our Ready for Release program, allowing us to serve more offenders with practical knowledge to build a better life and lessen the likelihood of a return to jail.

Our college transition program also reflects the changing climate at the post-secondary level. The expectation is that once the new GED arrives, students who pass it at the higher cutoff score won’t need such courses.

Another change is how we’re serving families and children through our Del Alma program. Del Alma promotes educational excellence, cultural competency and artistic expression, and the children we serve made great gains on two of Durango School District 9-R’s annual assessments by performing at or above grade level, particularly in literacy and language arts.

With all the changes, some things remain the same: We still appreciate the great community support we have earned. We take your trust seriously and work to make our outcomes useful for students and businesses that hire our graduates. We still offer free child care while students attend class so that they can persist in their education.

One persistent statistic we’d like to see change is Colorado’s dropout rate of between 20 and 25 percent. District 9-R’s new superintendent and vibrant programs are creating enthusiasm that will keep more students from falling through bureaucratic cracks. Still, some students will drop out for unavoidable reasons – financial challenges, life circumstances and transportation hassles. DAEC welcomes these learners.

Another change we’d love to see is for Colorado to directly fund adult education. While some elected officials voice support for adult education, it has yet to translate to a funded line item on the budget.

Change can be challenging and downright scary sometimes, but that’s what DAEC does best. We change lives through educating adults young and old who need another chance. We think change is good, and we’ll go first. You come, too.

Stephanie Moran has taught at DAEC since 2000. She is an adjunct instructor at Southwest Colorado Community College, and serves on the Durango District 9-R School Board.

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