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Instructors, students struggle with new GED test

Charleston Gazette photo by F. Brian Ferguson Garnet Career Center student Curtissa Mcneil continues to prepare for the TASC exam during a Wednesday morning class. After dropping out of Capital High School, she hopes to go into the U.S. Navy.
Charleston Gazette photo by F. Brian Ferguson
Garnet Career Center student Curtissa Mcneil continues to prepare for the TASC exam during a Wednesday morning class. After dropping out of Capital High School, she hopes to go into the U.S. Navy.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Steven Higginbotham never really cared for school. He played on the football team at Poca High School and had plenty of friends — but math was boring.

So when he was offered a job in 1982 that paid $18 an hour to work at Kaiser Aluminum, he dropped out, took the job and never got a high school diploma.

Six years later, the company closed. He looked for work elsewhere and eventually opened his own business. But his lack of a diploma left some doors closed to him.

Now, at 51 years old, Higginbotham can’t wait to go to school and challenge himself Monday through Friday. He wakes up at 6 a.m. and makes a strong pot of coffee. He watches as the hands on the clock creep toward 8 a.m., his favorite time of day.

Higginbotham is one of many students at the Garnet Career Center who show up bright and early to study for an exam meant to demonstrate they’ve learned about as much as an average high school graduate.

But students enrolled in West Virginia’s adult basic education classes don’t take the familiar GED anymore. They take the Test Assessing Secondary Completion, or TASC. Several states, including New York, New Jersey and Indiana, have also made the change, but students in some states are struggling with it.

After the Mountain State switched to TASC, instructors and students were surprised to see an exam much more difficult than the previously used GED.

“When I taught people for the GED test, our goal was for them to get 80 percent of the test questions correct,” said Carole Totten, an instructor at the Garnet.

Now, Totten and colleague Leslie Humphrey hope their students can answer half of the questions correctly…

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