By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY— In 2014, Alabama instituted a new high school equivalency test. Since its implementation the number of Alabamians passing the test dropped by 90 percent.
In 2013, the number of individuals passing the GED test in Alabama was 10,560, in 2014, that number fell to 1009.
The number of individuals applying for the test in Alabama has fallen from over 17,000 in 2013, to under 4,000 the following year.
On August 1, 2014, a group of Adult Education Teachers sent a letter to Governor Robert Bentley expressing their concerns over a the new high school equivalency test to be implemented throughout the State. The letter stated:
“We are very concerned about the prospect of Alabama’s adult education students being required to take the expensive Pearson-Vue 2014 GED ® test in order to earn a high school equivalency certificate.”
Not only was there a concern over the new material, there was alarm that fees had more than doubled. The old test cost an individual $50. The new test is $120.
Gail Moore has worked in Adult Education for 18 years. She was one of the signers of the letter to Bentley, “For me, it’s not about the test, it’s about the people who are being short-changed.”
Moore, who works in Adult Education made it clear she was speaking as a teacher and citizen, and not in any official capacity.
She said, the new method of testing, coupled with the higher cost, is hurting the people who just want an opportunity to better themselves.
The reason for the new test and higher cost is a result of a partnership between the original non-profit, who provided the test for over 70 years, and a for-profit that designed the new one.
In 2011, a partnership was formed between the non-profit, American Council on Education (ACE) and the for-profit, British multi-national conglomerate Pearson PLC, the world’s largest education and testing company.
Announcing the alliance in 2011, ACE and Pearson stated the new business would drive the future direction, design, and delivery of the GED® testing program.
This modernization partnership changed everything, according to Moore, “This test is completely different now.”
The new program, administered for the first time on computer only, was developed to align with Common Core State Standards.
What had once been a non-profit testing service designed to help drops-out, the working poor and late bloomers improve their lives, became a profit center for the world’s largest testing company.
A little known historical fact is that the acronym, GED means, General Educational Development, and not “General Education Degree” or “General Education Diploma,” as some had assumed. GED® and GED® Testing Services is a trademark of ACE.
Since the early 1940s, the high school equivalency testing provided by ACE and known as the G.E.D. has allowed millions to obtain a high school diploma, without completing a traditional classroom education.
The revamped high school equivalency test offered in Alabama is based on Common Core standards and only offered on computer.
Around the country, the number of those applying to take the new test and those passing it has greatly fallen. Moore and many others believe this is due to the cost and difficulty.
However, Mo Jones, who serves as Interim GED Administrator for the Department of Postsecondary Education, sees things differently. Jones says that the older test did not keep pace with the new college and career standards adopted by the State’s Board of Education. She believes that the lower numbers are not due to the more difficult test or the increased fee, but are a result of the “big push” in 2013 to enroll individuals ahead of the new 2014 test.
“We scared everybody and told them they’d better take this test [the old one] because the next one is gonna be harder,” said Jones. “So you see a huge increase in numbers of folks testing.”
She also points out that the $120 fee is the actual cost of the test without any additional revenue going to the State.< “There is no State funding...it’s run off of operational costs from the college,” she said. Jones said that the State may be forced to add on some fees because of the steep budget cuts occurring across the board. According to figures supplied by GED Testing Services, in 2013, 17,189 candidates took the GED test in Alabama, and of that number 10,560 passed, with a completion rate of 63 percent. According to Jones, in 2014, 3,360 individuals sat for the test, 1,899 completed the test, and 1,009 passed with a 53 percent passing rate. Jones says it is not unusual to see a drop in numbers with a new test. Moore, who was working in Adult Education the last time the test was revised in 2002, disagrees: “I was here when the 2002 test was rolled out. We didn't have a major problem, maybe a few, but we picked-up and moved on.” According to figures obtained by the Wall Street Journal in 2013, nationwide, 816,000, passed the GED test, with a 75 percent success rate. In 2014, that number dropped to 246,000, with an estimated pass rate of 60 percent.
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal: In February of this year, Anthony Carnevale, an economist who studies education and the labor market at Georgetown University stated, “They built a Cadillac, and everyone wants a Chevy.”
As a result of what Carnevale calls GED’s “Cadillac,” two companies have entered the market to offer alternatives. The latest entries into the education testing market are HiSET and TASC.
The non-profit HiSET® – High School Equivalency Test, was developed through a partnership between the University of Iowa College of Education’s Iowa Testing Programs and the Princeton, New Jersey-based, nonprofit Educational Testing Service. The HiSET exam cost $50.00 and can be taken with paper/pencil or on computer.
The TASC Test Assessing Secondary Completion™ was created through a partnership between CTB/McGraw-Hill and individual states. The test is offered online or on paper at a cost of around $50.00.
Jones says that the State has looked at these alternatives but decided to stay with what they know for now.
The teachers who signed the 2014 letter to Bentley recommended that the State look at these two alternatives.
While proponents of the new GED test claim that the decline in numbers is due primarily to a big push to enroll individuals ahead of the revised test, other see it as a further proof that big business’ entrance into education is more about profits than students.
“We’re not going to get a do-over:” Alabama health officer on Thanksgiving and COVID-19
There were 1,427 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama on Monday, the most since Aug. 11.
Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris on Monday pleaded with the public to avoid gatherings over Thanksgiving as COVID-19 continues to surge in Alabama and hospitals statewide are filling with coronavirus patients.
“We don’t want this to be the last ever Thanksgiving for someone in your family, like your parents or your grandparents,” Harris said during a press conference Monday.
Harris said Alabama’s numbers aren’t headed in the right direction and more than 230,000 Alabamians — roughly 4 percent of the state’s population — have been infected by the coronavirus.
“We are adding a couple of thousand new cases a day, at least, that we are aware,” Harris said. “This is a time for people to be vigilant. This is a time to be careful and to think about what you’re going to be doing.”
Alabama added 1,574 new coronavirus cases on Monday, and the state’s 14-day average for new daily cases was at a record high 2,087. In the last two weeks, the state has added 29,223 cases, the most cases in any two week period since the pandemic arrived in Alabama in March.
There were 1,427 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama on Monday. The last time so many were hospitalized in the state was on Aug. 11, during Alabama’s summer surge.
Harris said that he and his wife will be staying home for Thanksgiving instead of having his family’s regular large, intergenerational gathering. What happens with Alabama’s COVID-19 numbers over Thanksgiving will impact what the state’s December holiday and Christmas season will look like, Harris said.
“Are we gonna be here a month from now trying to have the same conversation? I really, really hope not,” Harris said.
Dr. Mary McIntyre, the Alabama Department of Public Health’s chief medical officer, said during the briefing that her home usually sees between 15 and 20 family members arriving for Thanksgiving. They’ve limited this year’s Thanksgiving to three additional people from out of their household, for a total of seven people, she said.
Everyone must wear masks and have temperatures checked at the door, she said.
Everyone will be seated six feet from one another and a Zoom video conference will be set up for those family members who won’t be attending in person, McIntyre said. They’ll use disposable plates, cups and utensils and have the ability, weather permitting, to eat outdoors.
“If we want to live to see another Thanksgiving, and I do, that it may mean stepping back this Thanksgiving and really limiting the number of people, and some of the things that we do,” McIntyre said. “Now is not the time to get out to do Black Friday shopping.”
Dr. Kierstin Kennedy, UAB’s chief of hospital medicine, in a separate press briefing Monday echoed concern over the possibility of spikes following Thanksgiving and Christmas if the public doesn’t do what’s needed to keep themselves and others safe.
“We are very much worried about the potential spike in numbers. We’ve also seen some of our own staff getting sick,” Kennedy said. “And unfortunately that’s not been at work. It’s been because we are just like you. We’re tired. We’re lonely. We want to try to socialize, and some of us have let our guards down and, as a result, have gotten sick.”
Kennedy said while there’s is concern over future spikes following the upcoming holidays “there is a way for all of us to help prevent that from happening.”
Kennedy said when Gov. Kay Ivey first issued her statewide mask order and social distancing requirements, the public masked up, businesses enforced the orders, and coronavirus numbers improved.
“It didn’t get nearly as bad as we thought, and we are really hopeful that the community is going to come together and do that again for us,” Kennedy said. “Because it’s more than just not having enough space for the COVID patients. It’s also those patients who do not have COVID that have other conditions. They rely on us for routine care, and we want to make sure that we’re available to provide that.”
Kenedy said UAB has an incredible group of staff members, who’ve proven themselves to be quite resilient, but that “the group is tired.”
“We’ve been doing this every single day since March, and so as you can imagine, people are very tired. It’s very emotional, especially as we see younger patients getting sick with this and getting sick in ways that we weren’t expecting,” she said.
Harris again urged the public to make smart decisions that will help slow the spread of coronavirus and save lives.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re not going to get a do-over on this,” Harris said. “This is a big national holiday, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and our numbers are worse than they have ever been during this entire response. Please be careful. Please be safe. And please try to take care of those people who are most vulnerable.”
Governor allocates $3.6 million in CARES Act funds to food banks
The money is to go to the nonprofit Alabama Food Bank Association, which will administer the funds.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday announced that $3.6 million in federal CARES Act money will be used to reimburse food banks for COVID-19-related expenses.
“Alabama is a state where neighbors help neighbors, even in the most difficult times,” Ivey said in a statement. “The Coronavirus pandemic presented significant challenges around the world, as well as here at home in our own state. Food banks in communities across Alabama have been a lifeline for those in need, and I am proud to be able to put these funds toward the Alabama Feeding Initiative. I have told Alabamians that I remain committed to getting these CARES Act funds into the hands of those who need it.”
The funds are to go to the nonprofit Alabama Food Bank Association, according to the memorandum of understanding. The association will administer the funds to eight participating food banks across the state, which can be reimbursed for the following:
- The purchase of food, packaging and related supplies to meet increased demand.
- operational expenses, including fuel and maintenance, incurred due to handling a higher amount for food, as well as open-air distribution events.
- Rental costs of storage space and vehicles to handle increased volumes of food.
- To purchase PPE, screening equipment and decontamination services to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Unless Congress extends the deadline, Alabama and other states have until Dec. 30 to spend CARES Act funds or the money reverts back to the federal government. Ivey has just under $1 billion left to spend before the deadline.
Alabama Education Association, Board of Medical Examiners meet over excuses to break COVID-19 quarantines
Prior to the meeting, the AEA on Nov. 5 threatened legal action against the board over the matter.
Officials with the Alabama Education Association and the Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners met on Thursday to discuss a concern the association has with doctors who write excuses to allow students to return to school before their mandated COVID-19 quarantine periods expire.
At the meeting between Theron Stokes, associate executive director of the Alabama Education Association, and William Perkins, executive director of the Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners, Stokes learned that the board wasn’t aware of the problem, the AEA said in a press release.
“Both groups agreed to set up a meeting with educational and medical organizations on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Alabama,” the AEA said in the release. “A meeting should be held before the end of the year and will allow the AEA and the Board of Medical Examiners, as well as other educational and medical organizations, to review existing guidelines issued by the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and ensure conformity in following those guidelines.”
In a letter to Perkins on Thursday, Stokes wrote that it was AEA’s understanding that the board was aware of the problem, but he wrote that during their meeting he became aware that neither the board nor Perkins was aware of the problem.
“It was not the intent of AEA to cause any unnecessary problems for you, the doctors you represent, or your organization regarding this matter,” Stokes wrote.
Prior to the meeting, the AEA on Nov. 5 threatened legal action against the board over the matter.
“It is our firm belief that there exists no medical scenario under which these students could be written out of quarantine and that to do so is violative of ADPH and CDC quarantine recommendations,” Stokes wrote in the Nov. 5 letter.
Stokes in his recent letter notes that both agreed in the meeting to bring together representatives of the other organizations to come up with a uniform procedure for following state and federal guidelines.
“I agree with your plan to conduct this meeting and finalize our goals before the holidays,” Stokes wrote.
Caravan to honor the life of longtime State Rep. Alvin Holmes
The caravan is being organized by community activists Ja’Mel Brown and William Boyd.
There is a car ride caravan honoring the life and service of Rep. Alvin Holmes in Montgomery at 2 p.m. Monday. The caravan is being organized by community activists Ja’Mel Brown and William Boyd.
On Saturday, Holmes passed away at age 81. He was born in 1939 into a very segregated Montgomery and spent his life battling in favor of civil rights causes. He was one of the first Black state representatives to serve in the Alabama Legislature after implementation of the Voting Rights Act.
There had been Black legislators during Reconstruction in the 1870s, but Jim Crow segregation during much of the 20th Century had effectively disenfranchised millions of Black Alabamians for generations.
Holmes served in the Alabama House of Representatives, representing House District 78 from 1974 to 2018. Holmes participated in the civil rights movement. He was a professor and a real estate broker.
The chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, released a statement mourning Holmes’s passing.
“Representative Alvin Holmes was a great Democrat and a fighter,” England said. “He stood on the frontlines of the fight for civil rights and was willing to sacrifice everything in his fight for justice for all. He not only had a long and distinguished career as a civil rights leader, but also as a member of the Legislature, serving his constituents faithfully and dutifully for 44 years. Alabama has lost a giant, whose wit, intelligence, fearlessness, selfless determination, and leadership will be sorely missed. My prayers are with his friends, family, and colleagues.”
State Rep. Kirk Hatcher, D-Montgomery, fondly remembered Holmes, whom he defeated in the 2018 Democratic primary.
“Today we lost a dedicated warrior for social justice. Representative Alvin Holmes was a true public servant,” Hatcher said. “What an amazing legacy he has left us! He could always be seen waging the good fight for equality in all aspects of state government and beyond. His public service is legendary and without peer.”
“In recent years, I am profoundly grateful for the grace he showed me in his willingness to share with me his blueprint for effectively serving our people—and by extension the larger community,” Hatcher said. “Today, my fervent prayers are with his beloved daughter Veronica, her precious mom (and his best friend), as well as other cherished members of his family and friends as they mourn his passing. I humbly join the many voices who offer a sincere ‘Thank You’ to Mr. Alvin Holmes for his dedicated service to our Montgomery community and our state. ‘May angels sing thee to thy rest.’”
State Rep. Tashina Morris, D-Montgomery, also fondly remembered Holmes.
“Sending Prayers to The Holmes family,” Morris said. “Alvin Holmes was the epitome of greatness working for his people!! May you Rest Well !!!”
Republican insider and former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr. also served with Holmes in the Alabama House of Representatives and the Montgomery legislative delegation.
“I served with Alvin for 20 years in the Alabama Legislature,” Hooper said. “We often disagreed on the issues, but even after a heated floor debate, we could shake hands at the end of the day. I always considered him a friend. He loved Montgomery and he was a great representative of his district and its issues. He was always willing to go the extra mile for one of his constituents. When I served as Chairman of the Contract Review Committee, he was one of the committee’s most conscientious members. He was always questioning contracts so he could be assured that the contract represented a good use of taxpayer’s dollars which as Chairman I greatly appreciated. He was one of a kind pioneer in the Alabama Legislature and will be sorely missed.”
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill served with Holmes in the Alabama House of Representatives prior to his election as secretary of state.
“I just learned that former State Rep. Alvin Holmes passed away today,” Merrill said on social media. “I enjoyed the privilege of serving with him from 2010-14. There was never a dull moment whenever he was in the Chamber. I appreciated him for his candor & for his desire to work on behalf of his constituents!”
Holmes was a member of the Hutchinson Missionary Baptist Church, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Montgomery Improvement Association, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Alabama Southern Christian Leadership Conference Board, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He has one daughter, Veronica.