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Archive for July, 2013

Adult Education programs are gearing up for new GED tests in 2014

An upcoming overhaul of the General Education Development test, or GED, is causing lots of debate locally and around the country due to major changes to the test, the way it is administered and who is overseeing it.

Starting Jan. 1, adults must take the high school equivalency tests on computers, instead of pencil and paper. The current five sections of the GED test, which include one language arts reading section and one language arts writing section, will be reduced to four (reasoning through language arts, mathematical reasoning, science and social studies).

The questions will be more complex, with short answers and essays intended to show greater understanding and critical analysis by test-takers in order to pass. Anyone who has not passed all five sections of the current test by the end of the year must start over in January.

Also, the GED Testing Service that oversees the tests is under new ownership, after a merger between the nonprofit American Council on Education that has always overseen it, with the for-profit Pearson learning company. The more stringent testing requirements, coupled with the new management structure, have placed additional burdens on adult education programs in California that are stressed from state budget negotiations.

In response to these concerns, the state Board of Education is considering changing its GED regulations to allow the California Department of Education to pursue an alternative high school equivalency test that could be taken using pencil and paper or computers. The board is accepting written comments through July 30 on an amendment that would change “a general educational development test” to “a test to obtain a high school equivalency certificate.” This change would clarify that the department would not be referencing the GED test.

Comments may be sent to the regulations coordinator via email:, or by FAX to 916-319-0155. More information, including the mailing address, is available by calling 916-319-0800 or by visiting Click on Item 6 under the full board agenda public session for July 10, 2013.

The state board held a public hearing about the proposed changes in May and received 10 comments ranging from support to criticism.

Randy Trask, president of the GED Testing Service, objected to assertions made in a Feb. 20 memo from the state Department of Education to the board that said computer-based testing would decrease access, especially in rural and correctional settings, and that continued paper-based testing across the state was essential. Trask said the memo conspicuously omitted the benefits of the computer-based system or costs to test-takers.

In a phone interview, GED spokesman Armando Diaz said the computer change has many benefits.

“We’re not just providing a test,” he said. “We’re providing an entire system.”

It will include a pre-GED test as well as post-test information, including scores and suggestions for next steps, he said. Now, if someone doesn’t pass, they have no idea what they need to do to pass next time.

The new test will provide an in-depth score report, showing strengths and weaknesses, he said. Based on the passing score, the system may suggest additional coursework, he added.

“We want to bridge the gap between test-takers and middle skills jobs,” he said. “A lot of technology has been introduced to the manufacturing field, but a lot of adults are not familiar with technology, such as dragging a computer mouse around. I don’t think Target and Walmart even offer paper applications anymore.”

If the GED test did not move to computers, he said, test-takers could be at a disadvantage when they look for jobs.

More information about the new test is at

Do you think the state should pursue an alternative to the GED?

Posted on Monday, July 29th, 2013
Under: California Board of Education, California Department of Education, Education | No Comments »

Story about foster youth in schools prompts fond memories from student’s former teacher

Foster youth Cookieey Ropati at Adams Middle School in Richmond.

Foster youth Cookieey Ropati at Adams Middle School in Richmond.

Earlier this week, I wrote a story about the state’s new emphasis on foster youth in schools that featured Cookieey Ropati, a foster child who graduated in June from Olympic Continuation High School in Concord and plans to attend Los Medanos Community College in the fall.

The day the story was published, I received a touching e-mail from Jason Lau, one of Ropati’s former teachers at Adams Middle School in Richmond, recalling her participation in his 7th-grade pre-algebra class, when she lived in the West Contra Costa school district. With the permission of Lau and Ropati, I am excerpting his e-mail:

“ … She always sat near the front (her choice) because she wanted to have as much interaction with her teachers as possible. She was an incredibly kind, extremely intelligent, and caring individual who literally brightened my day every time that I talked with her. She was also an amazing athlete. I remember her tenacity on the basketball court and how she embarrassed the boys when she proved that she could throw a football farther than them. What I remember most about her was her ability to stay positive and her relentless pursuit of life. She was never shy about talking to me about her situation and never allowed it to dictate the goals she set out for herself.”

Lau expressed happiness at learning that she will attend community college and asked me to let Ropati know that he is very proud of her.

“She was such a memorable student and was an inspirational story of perseverance even back in her middle school days,” he wrote.

When I told Ropati about Lau’s e-mail, she was surprised that he would take the time to send it, along with a photo that he found of her. Yet, Lau’s concern for Ropati’s welfare demonstrates what she said in the story about the importance of nurturing relationships for foster children: “It takes a village to raise a child. This is my village and I’m their child.”

When Ropati moved to the Mt. Diablo school district, she initially enrolled in Concord High, but transferred to Olympic after falling behind in credits. There, her support team included transition specialist and social worker Vivica Taylor, along with James Wogan, who oversees the district’s foster youth services.

“I met Vivica on my birthday three years ago and this woman brought me a cake and she didn’t even know me,” Ropati recalled. “So, I’m like, ‘Thank you, but who are you? I don’t understand.’”

As she began to open up to Taylor and the rest of the staff about the challenges she faced, Ropati said she realized they were providing stability in her life.

“I’m not sure what a regular parent does,” said Ropati, who has been in the foster care system since age 10. “But I’ve known them for so long that they’ve become basically my family.”

Taylor and Wogan said they provide “wraparound” services to foster youth to help meet all their needs, including food, housing, academic and mental health support. Although the number of foster students has decreased, they said the severity of the trauma and other issues with which these children are coping has intensified.

Many were abused or taken away from their parents for other reasons. Yet, the help they get from district staff — and from each other in student support groups — helps them gain confidence and thrive, Wogan said.

One girl in foster care recently spoke up after a teacher passed out papers and asked students to bring them to their moms, he said. The student asked the teacher to instead tell the class to bring the papers home to parents or guardians, since she doesn’t live with her mom.

“To me, it was really great to hear her say, ‘I’m in foster care,’” Wogan said. “We’ve seen kids go from being ashamed of being in foster care and not wanting their teachers to know, to overcoming that. But, not all kids are at that point.”

Ropati was one of several foster youth who lobbied the state to keep “categorical” funding for foster youth services intact and require school districts to track the academic progress of foster students and plan programs to help them.

Do you agree with the state’s new emphasis on helping foster youth in schools?

Posted on Friday, July 19th, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, West Contra Costa school district | 42 Comments »

Pleasant Hill Library Teen Advisory Group invites community to World Party on July 20

Families and area residents of all ages are invited to a communitywide party from 2-4 p.m. Saturday, July 20 at the Pleasant Hill library that will celebrate world cultures with fun activities.

The Pleasant Hill Library’s Teen Advisory Group is organizing the event, called “World Party — a multiethnic extravaganza.” Then on Sunday, the Contra Costa County Library System will celebrate it 100th anniversary during a separate community party.

Natalie Hill, a 16-year-old College Park High School junior, was busy preparing for the World Party along with three other members of the teen group earlier this week. Natalie, who is president of the teen group, said she got the idea for the World Party from a multicultural rally at College Park High earlier this year. She and other students in the group decided it would give them a way to celebrate their own diversity, she said.

“Our goal is to basically educate patrons who come in through fun activities and food,” she said. “It’s going to be super awesome, so everyone should come!”

The party will include art, dancing, food and games, Natalie said. She and her friend Dean Shim were creating signs to hang in the library on Thursday, while Pleasant Hill Middle School eighth-grader Alanna Dangerfield was making decorations along with Abhinav Singh, a Valley View Middle School eighth-grader.

Alanna, 13, was making “papel picado,” which means “cut paper.” She was cutting a butterfly design in colorful tissue paper, which could be folded and hung on string or used to decorate booths at the event.
Abhinav, who is also 13, was creating “rangoli” designs from India on paper window hangers. These floral designs are typically created during the Indian holiday called Diwali, he said.

“It’s supposed to make your home have good luck,” Abhinav said. “It can be made with white flour, rice or chalk. But, we’re doing it with paper, because we don’t want it to be messy.”

The World Party will also include traditional Japanese dancing, origami, Farsi calligraphy, Mexican arts and crafts, Irish soda bread and Hindu bread, Natalie said. To make visitors feel like they are traveling around the world, the teens were also making airplane decorations.

Both Veronica and Abhinav said they have been members of the teen group since it started two years ago. Natalie also joined the group at that time, after moving to Pleasant Hill from Southern California.

“I’ve always enjoyed going to the library since I was a kid,” Natalie said. “The teen advisory group is a really great way for teens to learn leadership skills and to work together as a team. We all have the same love for the library, so it’s a really great group to be in.”

About 20 middle and high school students are in the group. Dean, who is now a college student, was also in the group during high school.

“I just like them so much because we all share that passion with the library,” Natalie said. “It’s not like school, where you feel pressured by other people. It’s a very free experience, so that’s what I really like about it.”

Natalie said the group includes a lot of middle school students, in part because the library is close to Pleasant Hill Middle School.

“The teen advisory group gives them a way to be creative and work toward something together,” Natalie said. “It’s really cool.”

Natalie said she has always appreciated libraries because they provide a place where everyone can feel safe in a free learning environment. In fact, she loves libraries so much that she said she’d like to become a librarian after she graduates from college.

Both Natalie and Dean have been selected by the library to be interviewed by the national StoryCorps program about how the library has impacted their lives. Alanna’s mother, Veronica Dangerfield, is also participating in the program along with library Commissioner Katherine Bracken.

An article about the StoryCorps program should be published in this newspaper on Tuesday. You can see video of Natalie talking about the World Party here: And here is a video of Natalie talking about the library:

To weigh in on a survey to help shape the county library’s strategic plan, visit

What do you value about your local library?

Posted on Friday, July 12th, 2013
Under: Contra Costa County, Education, libraries | 3 Comments »

Will Middle Class Scholarship benefit your family?

Higher education reporter Katy Murphy and I are working on a story about the new Middle Class Scholarship recently signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. We would like to speak with families that might benefit from this.

If you are willing to be interviewed for this story, please call me at 925-945-4764 or Murphy at 510-208-6424. You can also reach me by email at or Murphy at

Here is more information about the scholarship from an excerpted news release sent out by Assemblyman John Perez, D-Los Angeles, who drafted the legislation:

“…In June, Speaker Pérez authored Assembly Joint Resolution 20, calling on Congress to prevent the student loan interest rates from doubling. It passed with overwhelming bipartisan support from the Assembly and state Senate.

The Middle Class Scholarship will cut tuition at UC and CSUs by 40 percent for California families making under $100,000 a year and 10 percent for families making under $150,000.

California universities have seen historically high fee hikes over the past 10 years with tuition rates increasing by over 190 percent at UCs and by about 145 percent at CSUs. Students at UCs and CSUs currently pay an annual tuition of $12,192 and $5,472 respectively. This legislation will dramatically lower the college fees to $7,315 at UCs and $3,283 at CSUs beginning in the 2014-15 school year for families making under $100,000 a year.

The state will increase spending on the Middle Class Scholarship each year until it is fully implemented in 2017-18, and it will be paid for through General Fund revenues.

Working with students and families from around the state, Speaker Pérez authored legislation last year to close a loophole that only benefitted out-of-state corporations and fund the Middle Class Scholarship. The Assembly passed that legislation on a bipartisan basis, but the bill died in the State Senate.

This year, the Middle Class Scholarship, Assembly Bill 94, received overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate and the Assembly.

‘This is a great victory for higher education and middle class families in California, and a huge first step in keeping college affordable,’ Speaker Pérez said. ‘For the past 10 years, the middle class has been increasingly squeezed out of our public universities because of skyrocketing tuition rates, forcing students to drop out of college or take on massive student debt that will negatively impact them for years, possibly decades. This legislation will ensure that California maintains a healthy middle class and an educated work force to keep our economy strong.'”

It is my understanding that this would not be available to families with incomes of less than $80,000 because they are eligible for Cal Grants.

Do you agree with Perez and the governor that this is good for California?

Posted on Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013
Under: Education, Gov. Jerry Brown | 7 Comments »