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for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

GED 2002: High Tech, Low Tech, and No Tech Accommodations

Fred Edwards
GED Testing Service

The mission of the General Equivalency Diploma (GED) Testing Service is to help adults, including those with disabilities, obtain their GEDs. Overall, individuals surveyed nationwide indicated that they were pursuing their GEDs to achieve their educational goals and to improve their work opportunities. At the completion of the GED testing process, test takers are asked why they took the test. The following goals, in order of the number of responses received, were identified as the specific reasons test takers who were surveyed took the GED:

  1. Personal satisfaction
  2. Obtain a better job
  3. Pursue four year college degree
  4. Pursue two year college degree
  5. Attend technical school
  6. Become role model for family
  7. Job training
  8. Required by employer
  9. Certification of skill levels
  10. Pursue military enlistment
  11. Obtain first job

In 1988, The GED test and testing process was updated, which caused considerable consternation among adults interested in securing their GEDs. Prior to 1988, the GED test utilized only objective question formats. On the new test, an essay was added and a number of newspaper commentators intimated that there would be a significant increase in the numbers of people failing the GED because they felt that adults could not be taught to write. However, this concern did not prove valid—the adults taking the new test have successfully completed the essay portion.

In 2001, the GED Testing Service (GED/TS) added a calculator requirement on the math test-not just a four-function calculator, but a scientific calculator. This presented a challenge for people with visual impairments who were trying to complete the test in the standard format. In response to concerns from people with low vision, the GED/TS sought and found an overhead scientific calculator called "The Educator." Individuals with low vision could use the overhead calculator in a private room. In 2002, a talking scientific calculator was identified and the GED/TS purchased one unit per state. Although this effort was not enough to satisfy the needs of the 3200 GED test sites that exist nationwide, ordering information was provided to each site so that they could purchase their own unit if it was needed by a test taker.

Alternative formats for responding on the GED tests have also been added to the new test. Test takers do not simply capture a response from a series of options-now they must show their work and darken in a bubble on an answer sheet, there are questions that require them to graph their answers; and, of course, there is the handwritten essay. Regardless of the test format, the test taker must still be able to fill the bubble on the answer sheet, or plot a graph or chart in the math section. Accommodating people with visual impairments, while maintaining consistency in the grading process, has proven to be a significant challenge. In addition, the current tests use a high percentage of graphics (60 percent more graphics than in the previous edition) because pictures, charts, and graphs are assumed to be easier to understand than words for most test takers. These approaches effectively put visually impaired test takers at a disadvantage.

Several presenters at this symposium emphasized the importance of developing partnerships among agencies to advance the goal of making the GED test more accessible to people with visual impairments. The GED/TS is a small component of the American Council on Education. The American Council on Education is a governmental relations organization for American colleges and universities, and it includes a center on adult learning, of which GED is a part. People who visit the GED offices in Washington, D.C. are often surprised to learn that only 34 individuals work day-to-day in the GED section. In order to accurately reflect the curriculum of the average high school student, the GED/TS works closely with subject area experts, including teachers from the National Council of Teachers and the National Council of Social Studies. They also convene a number of panels when needed to consider issues related to GED test takers such as a multicultural panel, a psychometric panel, and a disability panel. When it was suggested that GED/TS add color to the graphs on the tests, they approached the disability panel and blindness professionals to determine what impact adding color might have on people with low vision. Their suggestions are reflected in the graph color choices on the current test.

Many requests to have the test read to candidates have also been fielded. Standardizing the reading process has proven to be an issue, especially in the areas where graphics are involved. There is an audio taped version of the GED that includes descriptions of graphics; however, using the audio tapes requires considerable practice before attempting the test. Following input from professionals in the blindness field, the GED/TS also looked at digital talking book players. Although this seems a viable option for the future, it is cost prohibitive at present.

The success of a new test format is ultimately dependent upon the demographics utilized to develop the format. Wolffe and other presenters at this symposium agreed that inadequate data exist on visually impaired GED candidates and that additional research is necessary to collect information that can be used to develop an empirical database that will identify areas that need improvement and give evidence of what is being done well. The international database being constructed with information from the new test surveys will be available to researchers to help correct this problem.

Initial efforts to develop a test format that visually impaired people could use resulted in a new, large print version of the GED test. Documented criticism expressed by examiners included:

  • Test document does not fit in the file cabinet.
  • Desks in the test area are not large enough to accommodate the large print test.
  • Large print tests will not fit under the closed circuit television system (CCTV).

The GED/TS asks local GED administrators to resolve these problems creatively, for example, file large print tests horizontally, allow the use of a table rather than a too small desk, and try a regular print version in conjunction with a CCTV rather than the large print version. An issue that hasn't been mentioned to date, but came up at the symposium, concerns a possible "fatigue factor" among test takers using the large print test. Test takers experiencing fatigue may require extended time for test completion and this notion will be presented for consideration to the GED disability panel. The panel will determine whether large print users could benefit from extended time and, if so, how much time would be appropriate.

Prior to 2001, individuals taking the GED tests could come back at anytime and continue the testing process—even taking tests over multiple years. After 2001, test takers were no longer allowed to use previous test scores. This rule change created a rush on the system, with over one million participants attempting to complete their GED testing prior to the change in rules. An unexpected advantage to getting the rule change message out was the unprecedented amount of data collected. Specific changes in the number of test takers that needed some form of assistance are documented below:

  • 43 individuals utilized the braille format in 2000 compared to 87 individuals in 2001.
  • 471 individuals took the audio version of the test in 2000 compared to 1,356 individuals that used this format in 2001.
  • 1,541 individuals used the large print version of the test in 2000 compared to 2,641 individuals in 2001.
  • 2,850 individuals requested other accommodations, including magnifiers and CCTVs, to take the test in 2000, compared to 6,714 in 2001.

Accommodations and Forms

With the new GED test, there is no large print answer sheet available because it will not fit on a scanner. The test taker must use a scribe to record the answers on the answer sheet. This is necessary so that all the scored tests can be returned at the same time. The scribes need instruction to ensure that they appropriately record what the test taker describes. The test taker must possess appropriate dictation skills not only to give answers to the scribe; but also to plan, outline, draft, review and revise his or her essay. Individuals are not allowed to use a tape recorder to record their essays, because they must work with the scribes to ensure that the scribes do not interpret their thoughts, but transcribe them verbatim. The test taker must also be able to spell the words that the scribe puts on paper, particularly homonyms and scientific or technical words.

Other accommodations allowed GED candidate without prior approval at the test site the visually impaired during the testing process include use of:

  • color and transparent overlays
  • temporary adhesive
  • earplugs
  • certain magnification devices,
  • straight edge (not a ruler)
  • priority seating
  • single tests per day
  • alternatives to fluorescent lighting.

The SA-001 form is used to determine appropriate accommodations for GED candidates with physical or emotional disabilities, including visual impairment. It is a complex task, considering the diversity of physical and emotional impairments. To receive special accommodations, such as extended time; a braille, audio cassette, or large print edition of the test; talking calculator; private room; or scribe; the candidate must complete the SA-001. A certifying professional must describe the candidate's disability, indicate its severity, and identify appropriate accommodations.

Questions Fielded During the Symposium

Why can't JAWS technology be used to complete the essay section?

The grading scanner is set up to read handwriting for the essay section of the test. The essay can be written using a computer with JAWS, but the finished product must be dictated to a scribe and handwritten so the test can be graded with the others. If the candidate writes the essay with a computer using JAWS, he or she must have the grammar and spell check features turned off.

Can the time constraints be adjusted?

The certifying professor can determine the additional amount of time that is appropriate for the visually impaired test taker. The candidate's need must be documented but individuals have been allowed time and a half, double, or triple time when necessary.

Is the use of an abacus acceptable?

An abacus can be used with or without a calculator, according to Section 11 of the examiner's manual.

Who is eligible to act as a scribe in the essay section?

The scribe is usually an examiner who works with the chief examiner, sometimes it is the chief examiner. The examiner's manual dictates how the scribe is trained to work with the visually impaired. Scribes are used more frequently with learning disabled as opposed to visually impaired candidates.

Is the test taker required to spell every word to the scribe?

No. Since the essay is scored holistically, the candidate must exhibit the ability to spell and use the words appropriately. The scribe can ask them to spell specific words.

Do large print format users get extra time to complete the test?

Test takers must ask for extra time and examiners apply appropriate standards in determining additional time.

Are practice tests available in taped format?


Are practice tests available in braille format?


In the braille tests, are there tactile graphics available?

No. The graphs are described in the braille version, but no tactile graphics are available presently. In the future, tactile graphics may be available.

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