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Posted December 14, 2008
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In These Classrooms, a G.E.D. Is Only a Start
april rodriguez
April Rodriguez, 31, has worked in construction since completing a program that provided G.E.D. test preparation and construction skills training.
     FOR the two dozen or so job seekers who recently attended a preparation class for the G.E.D. tests in Harlem, the math problems were challenging: Would a person in a car traveling 75 miles an hour have time to stop if a moose suddenly appeared 250 feet ahead on the road? They were also practical: How do you convert square feet to square yards, as a rug salesman at a store might need to do?

Ramon Ulerio, 20, who dropped out of high school in his senior year, signed up for the class a few months ago when his supermarket deli job reached a dead end: he was told he would not be promoted because he did not graduate from high school.

Another student, Albert Heard, 49, dropped out of high school in 10th grade. “I was forced to take jobs I didn’t like, jobs I hated,” he said. “It held me back for a long time.”

The job seekers were attending a new program offered by Strive, a nonprofit group that offers job training and placement. It is one of many efforts nationwide to help adults without high school diplomas pass the G.E.D. tests, receive work-force training and become eligible for post-secondary education.

The G.E.D. — General Educational Development — tests were developed during World War II to measure the academic level of military personnel and veterans who entered military service before completing high school.

Passing the tests is sometimes perceived as not being on par with a high school education. But the American Council on Education, developer of the tests, says that only 60 percent of current graduating high school seniors would pass the most recent series, introduced in 2002, on their first attempt.

People who pass all five sections, which cover reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies, receive certification for having attained high school-level academic knowledge and skills. According to the council, a vast majority of colleges and employers accept a G.E.D. credential in lieu of a high school diploma.

Many G.E.D. preparation programs now emphasize the importance of postsecondary education or training. “In 1960, a high school diploma was all you needed” to get a job, said C. T. Turner, associate director of marketing and public relations for the G.E.D. Testing Service. “It’s just not the case anymore. It’s a knowledge-based economy now.”

Johan E. Uvin, director of the office of adult and career and technical education for Rhode Island, said, “In my view, the biggest payoff to the G.E.D. is that it opens doors to postsecondary education and training.”

“At the risk of oversimplifying, the research on the economic benefits basically says that you are less well off with a G.E.D. than with a regular high school diploma, but if you were someone with low skills when you left high school you will do much better than dropouts with no credential at all but you won’t make enough to rise above poverty,” Dr. Uvin said.

Washington State conducted studies recently that found that a high school diploma or equivalency was often not enough to achieve economic self-sufficiency for state residents. But participants with the G.E.D. credential who also had some post-secondary education or training, the equivalent of at least one year of college and a certificate, made significantly more money five years later — $8,500 a year more — than those who did not.

The state now combines its G.E.D. preparation and work-force training from the start. “There are very few stand-alone G.E.D. classes. Everything must be built on something else,” said Israel Mendoza, Washington’s director of adult basic education. “It is a different model, which has been incredibly successful.”

More states are also offering flexible options for preparation and testing. Tests offered at night or on Saturdays cater to working people. And people in some states can sit for tests on different days since all five together can take a little more than seven hours to finish.

Some states even offer online and video-on-demand G.E.D. preparation. Iowa introduced an on-demand program several months ago to accommodate people who may have transportation and child care issues, or who are juggling multiple jobs.

Helene Grossman, director for adult education and literacy for Iowa, said that there had been strong interest in the on-demand program among disabled people, older adults and people who need flexibility as they look for work.

She stressed that all video-on-demand students develop a mentoring relationship with a community college instructor, which is the case for standard G.E.D. preparation classes as well.

IN January, Strive redesigned its core job readiness program to include on-site G.E.D. preparation classes and skills training in specific high-demand industries, such as computer technology and office operations.

“Technology and industry have really changed the dynamic for the work force,” said Angelo J. Rivera, chief operating officer of Strive. “There is a shift toward a more complex skill set.”

The expanded program is now offered in some form at 4 of its 15 national affiliates.

New graduates have been “leapfrogging the lowest-wage jobs,” Mr. Rivera said, and are placed at a faster rate than those without hard skills training.

April Rodriguez, 31, who dropped out of school in the ninth grade, recently completed Strive’s G.E.D. preparation and construction skills training. “I’ve always had a fascination for construction but knew you needed a high school diploma,” she said.

Her most recent job was as a clerk in a video store for $9.50 an hour. Today, though she is not called in to work every day, she is an apprentice for the Local 79 Laborers Union, making a base wage of $18.55 an hour, along with benefits that bring the wage up to about $32 an hour.

“I took every chance they gave me for tutoring,” Ms. Rodriguez said of the Strive staff. “They do not give up on you.”

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, Job, of Sunday, December 14, 2008.
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