Test Center Spotlight: The Indiana Department of Correction

March 17, 2016 Jennifer Brandt

Test Center Spotlight: The Indiana Department of Correction 

Education moves lives forward; it opens doors and leads to pathways of opportunity and prosperity. Every day, people shift their circumstances significantly by dedicating their time and energy to passing the TASC Test Assessing Secondary Completion™. This level of achievement and change is also prevailing in some of our country’s correctional facilities.

Specifically, the Indiana Department of Correction has seen striking success in their correctional education.

“Correctional education is a crucial part of the correctional system in terms of prison operation and is a critical component for successful prisoner reentry into the community,” according to What We Know about Offender Prison Education, Credit Time and Recidivism: A Case Study in Indiana.

The Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) and Indiana’s State Legislature support “all eligible offenders to fully engage in educational programs in order to advance their educational competency and career development,” and to “enhance successful offender reentry into the community after release from prison.”

Today we’re placing the test center spotlight on the Indiana Department of Correction as John Nally, Director of Education for the IDOC, discusses the department’s experience and success with the TASC test:

  1. When did the Indiana Department of Correction start offering the TASC test?

The Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) began offering the TASC test on January 1, 2014. The state of Indiana decided to move from the GED® test to the TASC test as the state’s official high school equivalency (HSE) test on that date.

  1. What successes have you seen as a result of offering the TASC test?

The TASC test offers a rigorous test which is in-line with what offenders/students are expected to know [when they enter the job market]. When released with a TASC test HSE, offenders have a very good chance at successfully securing employment.

  1. What type of pass rates is the IDOC experiencing system wide?

The IDOC has seen overall pass rates remain between 76% and 82%. [Pass rates have] averaged around 79/80% since the inception of TASC testing. Subtest pass rates range from 84% to 98% with an average around 92%.        

  1. How many offenders/students in Indiana took, completed, and passed the TASC test?

From January 1, 2014 to March 1, 2016, 1,966 offenders have passed the TASC test while in IDOC custody. A total of 2,454 offenders have taken the TASC test.

  1. How is the TASC test administered at the Department of Correction?

Due to safety and security procedures and protocol, the IDOC only offers paper-based testing.

  1. How does the Department of Correction help test takers prepare for the TASC test?

The IDOC employs a multi-step process before an offender sits for the TASC test. An offender is first TABE® (Test of Adult Basic Education) tested. Those who do not meet a minimum requirement are placed in adult basic education literacy classes. Once they achieve literacy, they are placed in TASC test preparation classes. They are tested with the TASC test Readiness Assessment. When they achieve a 95% probability passing potential, they sit for the official TASC test.

  1. Since the IDOC uses the TASC test and the TABE test together, what do you feel is the purpose and benefit in using them together?

The TABE test is not a comprehensive test, but it does provide more information about a student’s strengths and weaknesses than the TASC test does. For the purposes of the IDOC, the TABE test gives information about foundational skills, which is necessary for educational placement in our facilities. The multiple TABE levels (E,M,D,A) allow a student with a low skill set to feel some sense of achievement and confidence as they test and move up through the TABE levels.

The TASC test Readiness Assessment is the next logical assessment given after making achievement and gains with the TABE test. The Readiness Assessment acts as a bridge between the [TABE test and the TASC test]. It helps the offender prepare for the rigor of the TASC test without being overwhelmed by it.

  1. What challenges has the IDOC experienced with the TASC test and the TABE test, and how did IDOC overcome these issues?

TABE and the TASC test both fulfill two distinct roles for the Indiana Department of Correction. TABE is not to be used as an indicator of probable TASC test success. Rather, TABE is used as an indicator of student literacy progress and achievement.

[Additionally, the] difficulty of the Math portions of TABE are not mirrored to the expectations of the TASC Math subtest, and Science is [also] not [assessed] by TABE. [We feel to use] TABE as an indicator and pathway of/to success on the TASC test, we would be doing a disservice to the student who is moving from basic literacy to high school achievement.

To help students then prepare for the rigors of the TASC test, the IDOC has chosen to use TASC test preparation materials and software to prepare students for the type of questions the TASC test asks. The IDOC also actively engages in professional development for our teachers, which has been a great help, especially in the areas of calculator skills and higher level math.

  1. What motivates students (beyond time cuts) to pass both TABE and the TASC test?

Credit time plays a large role in programming for offenders. One cannot separate that motivational aspect of programming. In many cases, offenders also do not want to “waste” their time. They would much rather be out of their dorms, engaging with others, and participating in something that has a two-fold benefit (credit time and a high school equivalency). In some cases, prison is the first opportunity for an offender to complete a high school education without the complications of jobs, childcare, or active substance abuse.

In some cases, students who begin education programming with basic literacy classes come around and recognize that while the time cut is nice, it is a quick, temporary reward. Having an HSE can benefit them for the rest of their lives when it comes to achieving a steady, above minimum wage employment. Some offenders recognize that the critical thinking skills that come with advancing their education can help them with life’s choices and decisions. Again, this is something a time cut cannot do.

 

In prison, an HSE is a gate way to vocational programming and other opportunities. Offenders often have very monotonous lives and little self-esteem boosting motivation. Education can provide that break-up of routine and can be a necessary self-esteem boost that will have a long-lasting impact on an offender – both while incarcerated and post release.

  1. How much are sentences reduced by when an offender passes the TASC test and TABE?

When offenders pass the TASC test, they get 183 days (credit time) off of their sentence. If they pass TABE, they also get 183 days off their sentence. So if an offender passes both the TASC test and TABE while incarcerated, they could get a total of 366 days off of their sentence.

  1. Do you have any documentation or theories about whether offenders/students who pass the TASC test while still under their sentence have increased chances of finding employment opportunities upon release?

Several research articles outline the experience IDOC has had when it comes to employment and recidivism. Several significant findings stand out:

  • An offender who has not attended correctional education programs during incarceration is approximately 3.7 times more likely to become a recidivist offender after release from IDOC custody when compared with an offender who has participated in a variety of correctional education programs during incarceration.
  • Those who do participate in correctional educational programming are 43% less likely to be re-incarcerated. Offenders who participate in correctional education have a 13% higher chance of finding employment.
  • Specifically to HSE attainment, those offenders who leave without a high school equivalency are 2.8 times more likely to return to IDOC custody.
  • In terms of sustained employment and earning potential, offenders with more education (including attainment of functioning literacy level and HSE/HSED) are more likely to have sustained periods of employment in higher wage jobs.
  • Offenders with less education often find themselves marginally employed in minimum-wage labor intensive jobs.

In Indiana it is believed that correctional education also reduces the amount spent on incarcerating offenders over multiple periods of incarceration – through reduced recitivism of offenders.

  1. Any additional comments, insights, or comments of inspiration you’d like to add as it pertains to your test takers and aspiring HSE candidates with the TASC test?

The chance to take the TASC test gives the test taker the opportunity to open doors for themselves and to further their future. Job potential and future education opportunities open up when a candidate earns their HSE. 

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