At the beginning of this year, achieving a high school diploma as an adult learner in Memphis, TN, was the hardest it has been in decades. Forget the barriers of transportation, child care, money, and discouragement. Forget being tested on new material, paying at least 15% more to test, or having your previous progress erased at the new year. The reason high school diplomas were hard to come by was because you simply could not test.
It took 2 and a half months before Memphis residents could take the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET), a new test of High School proficiency to compete with the GED, in Shelby County. In fact, there was no test of high school proficiency offered at all in January and the only option for February or early March was to take the GED (General Educational Development) test at Southwest Tennessee Community College’s Macon Road campus near Germantown- almost 30 minutes from Downtown (longer by bus).
It is unclear why a credential that only benefits the city (and nation as a whole), the lack of which is well documented as being a trap for folks to remain poor, would be so elusive for nearly a quarter year, especially in a city already injured by the symptoms and causes of poverty. But the fact remains that GED and ETS (the companies offering high school equivalency tests in Tennessee), the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and Shelby County Schools failed in the first two and a half months of the year to make the tests accessible to residents in the city.
Despite this setback, the first 2 high school diplomas obtained by students in Advance Memphis High School Equivalency Program were earned during the first week that the HiSET was offered in Shelby County. This should not be a surprise. It should be widely known that a high school diploma earned via the GED or HiSET tests represents more than a mastery of the basics of algebra, geometry, English syntax, or US history. Earning a high school diploma as an adult learner proves that the recipient is a hard worker, can finish what they start, can show up when required, and is driven to do more with their life. Waiting to take the test was just another hurdle in the track toward helping themselves toward a better life. For most of my students, their high school graduation is not the end of their journey. Instead, it is a key to open the door to new beginnings, new opportunities, and even new lives. When we refused people the chance to test we didn’t simple fail to offer a finish line, we failed to offer a starting line.
Every GED or High School Equivalency success is a testament to our students’ perseverance; this year, it’s truer than ever.