Ready but not able : a case study of the experiences of three adult learners repeatedly enrolled in high school equivalency preparation courses.


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Adult learners enrolled in adult basic education (ABE) classes at community colleges who were hesitant to take high school equivalency (HSE) exams prevented themselves from progressing to college, new career opportunities, or achieving their academic goals. This narrative case study explored three students’ educational experiences and unwillingness to take a particular HSE test, the GED, after completing at least 40 hours of preparation classes. The GED Testing Service (GEDTS), which provides the only entryway to taking the test, must move beyond offering excellent academic instruction and study guidance. The GEDTS must adopt strategies to connect with and help the test-averse students finally earn their credentials. The three women in this study navigated many roles at once—learners, caregivers, employees—all while being thrust back into the classroom setting, which was an environment that ended negatively at least 20 years ago. This qualitative study described former middle and high school dropouts who experienced the conflicting choices of taking preparation courses but never attempting any test subsections. Data collection included interviews and the Immunity to Change map-making exercise (Kegan & Lahey, 2009) of three adult learners with descriptive details. This case study used a narrative form that interpreted the reality of the phenomenon, building upon existing literature through an interpretive framework of Kegan’s (1982, 1994, 2000) constructive-developmental theory of adult development and the individual process of transformative learning. The results showed why the adult learners simultaneously attempted to move forward with academic progression but halted their forward movement by never testing. The three participants of this study were equally or more committed to protecting themselves from their underlying fears as much as they were determined to earn their high school credentials; they were unable to take the test because of the assumed harm it would bring. Accordingly, the GEDTS should utilize the study’s findings and incorporate non-academic supports to create success paths for students. Additionally, adult educators across the country should use these Texas community college study results to understand the reluctance of ABE students to move forward with their goals. The potential benefits for the country’s entire workforce are virtually limitless.



Adult basic education. Adult learners. High school equivalency. GED. Adult development. Immunity to change.