Omega School 2016 Spring
Commencement Exercise
Sticking with It
“Some people completed before they normally would have completed because their scores were expiring,” Mireles said. “So we had a higher
number of graduates the last year. And so we had a 15-35 percent drop the next year. On December 13, 2013, we had 79 people finish. We had
about 5-6 graduations that year. We actually had seven people finish after the graduation, the last week of December. Some people were
coming at the last second.”

The drop was also influenced by the higher costs associated with the GED test.

“When I first started, the GED was $35 and now it is $144,” Mireles said. “It was $35 for all five tests. Now it’s $120 for all five tests and they
have official practice tests that cost $6 apiece. It’s almost one-fourth of a monthly income for some families. It’s just enough to be a barrier. We’
ve been able to supplement the GED test, but it is still a burden.”

The reliance on a computer-based model was also problematic for some people.

“Computer access is difficult for some people,” Mireles said. “The older you are, the less comfortable or familiar you are with computers. That’
s been a challenge for some of our students. The screen navigation that is currently used on the GED, it’s not as user-friendly as it could be.
They are still using tabs, which a lot of software doesn’t use. Especially our young people are used to going ‘click, click, click.’ For those
students who have computer access, it makes having a computer a lot easier. But some adults don’t work on a computer, so that adds to the
difficulty. The essay on the Reasoning through Language Arts has to be done on computer. That poses some challenges to crafting a written
response and then typing it in within a certain time period.”

But perhaps the biggest barrier of all was the higher test score threshold that made attaining a GED just out of reach for some students
resulting in Omega graduating only 10-15 students per year for the first two years under the new standards.

“Students had pretty good skills, but we had a lot of students who once they failed a test, they stopped coming,” Mireles said. “We had other
students who were making progress, but once they failed a test, it was hard to get them to come back. They were easily discouraged.”

While Omega School students were close, they just couldn’t get over the 150 points that they needed on each test to pass. That held true for
most GED students in the country.

“Students had to score a minimum of 150 on each test,” Mireles said. “It looked like about 146 was where the curve was saying these people
are in and out. They looked at all four tests. And then when they shared that information with us, the average passing score for all of the people
who took the math test was 152. For science and social studies, it was 154. And then for the writing tests, it was 156. 150 was passing, so
there wasn’t a lot of wriggle room. I think the lower score of 145 gave us more room at the bottom. People had a little more cushion in order to
pass the exams.”

Part of the bump that Omega School received in terms of the number of students graduating in June was due to a number of students who now
qualified for their GEDs.

“A number of students, if you had scored below the old score, but above the new score, you were grandfathered in,” Mireles said. “So we had
about 5-6 students who were grandfathered in. They had enough passing scores. The second thing is it provided an opening for all of the rest of
the students. We had four Spanish-speaking students complete the tests. The first year, we didn’t have any.”

For some of the older students, Mireles is looking at another option that will be more reflective of their life experiences.

“Getting your GED is something that you have to be ready to do,” Mireles emphasized. “We are working on being able to provide what is called
the 509 option. It’s a kind of test done with Madison College. We had a couple of students who graduated through that program. That’s more of a
competency-based program versus a testing-based program. You demonstrate all of the competencies that are similar to what is on the GED
test. For older students, it seems to be the better route. It’s never too late.”

It appears that Omega School has weathered the storm and is poised to begin graduating students at its historic rates.

“We expect that number to grow,” Mireles said. “It’s been two years of people not passing the test. That thought is out there now. We have to
get the word out there that it is still a rigorous test, but there is a little bit more room to allow people to pass.”

And that is good news for students and families for whom the GED is the first academic achievement of their lives. Now the students can
move on as well.
By Jonathan Gramling

Omega School graduation exercises are always so inspiring. For
whatever barriers the students faced — almost all of them having
dropped out of the traditional public high school program — whether it
is family problems, economic problems or personal problems, the
students faced those challenges and succeeded. Some students
attain their GEDs shortly after their high school class graduates. For
others, attaining their GED is a lifetime achievement. Some come
from families that have college graduates within their ranks. For
others, they are the first to graduate from high school in their families.

The 2016 Omega School Commencement Exercise was no different.
Held June 16 at Fountain of Life Church, 30 students graduated
cheered on by their families and friends. There were a lot of tears and
smiles as the students celebrated achieving something that they
once thought impossible. And Destiny Underhill received the CUNA
Mutual scholarship awarded to an Omega School graduate going on
to higher education.

The commencement was also a celebration for Omega School itself,
in a way, for it appears that it has met and overcome a challenge to
its ability to assist people in attaining their GEDs.
In January 2014, the national GED testing system changed to a
computer-based test that was aligned with the common core
academic standards that were being implemented by public school
systems across the country.

And so, Omega School had to retool by increasing the number of
computers it had to provide instruction and test preparation and it has
to change its approach and weather the transition to the new system
as it worked its bugs out. During the first year, Omega School
experienced a large drop in the number of its graduates. Part of the
drop was due to the rush of students to attain their GEDs under the
old standards and have the tests that they had taken still count.