Finding a pathway to success in education and career can be challenging for people who have experienced hardships in life or who have faced barriers to finishing high school. For this TASC Test Center Spotlight, we spoke with Vera Best, Executive Director and founder of Best Resource Center, about the importance of choosing to be successful, of taking full advantage of the resources available at the local adult education center, and establishing the life skills that pave the way for long-term continued success. We also heard from Tynisa Woody, TASC Examiner, about a very special student who refused to give up on her dream of earning her high school equivalency (HSE).
Can you tell us a little bit about your center, such as the people you serve and the types of programs you offer?
We started our program in 1999. Our overarching theme is that we believe there is a clarion call to a higher standard of excellence that we must pursue. In addition to providing HSE testing for the TASC Test Assessing Secondary Completion™, we offer a variety of resources to support our community including adult education instruction, occupational training, internship opportunities, and preparation for post-secondary/college. We also offer a Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) program that serves ages 16 to 24.
We believe that entering the success pipeline is a matter of choice. Making the choice to be successful, coupled with the wise utilization of supporting resources, allows one to position oneself in a posture to experience multiple levels of success. We encourage individuals to take advantage of the resources that are available to them. We offer the opportunity to obtain not only educational skills but also critical life skills, which will carry them far beyond their HSE. We’re concerned about not just where they are today and helping them to move their lives forward, but also ensuring they can continue their journey after their initial goal(s) are completed, to experience long-term successes.
Walk us through what happens when someone comes to your center. What is the process of getting started?
The process begins with responding to inquiries about the purpose of entry, after which a brief introduction of relevant and appropriate service offerings is provided. The process and dialogue are then focused on identifying specific needs and matching the services, an initial readiness check, discussion of commitment levels toward the completion of programs, and we then further explore existing barriers that might impede the process and/or successful completion. We direct and provide referral information to other agencies that might provide access and supportive services and solutions, including but not limited to housing, childcare, outpatient services for alcohol and substance abuse, counseling, domestic violence, employment, and more.
How does your center help someone prepare for the HSE/TASC Test?
First, we assess and determine the specific level of individual readiness. In most cases those that are not at the appropriate level of readiness are referred to the appropriate level of instruction to prepare for the TASC Test. We use the Tests of Adult Basic Education® (TABE) to assess or determine what level they need to be placed in; their instructional plan is created based on the results of assessment. In addition, we provide English as a Second Language (ESOL) classes for those who need to develop language skills prior to going into the HSE segment.
How long are students in class before they’re ready to take the HSE/TASC Test?
The timeframe is individually mapped out for each person. It also depends upon their attendance. We stress the importance of attending class—you have to be here; you have to be in the seat to receive instruction if you want to be successful in reaching your expressed goal. However, we understand that many might have encounters in life and must deal with life issues that could prohibit them from attending every session. Some participants work in the daytime, some work in the evenings, some are actively seeking employment. Our program is very flexible and includes night classes to accommodate the needs of several individuals.
We heard about one of your students, Angela, who recently passed the TASC Test at 70 years old. What was her journey like?
Tynisa: I’ve been with Best Resource Center for 16 years. I met Angela for the first time in 2012 when she applied for the test. She was determined and persistent in reaching her goal. At the time she only needed to pass the math subtest, so we tested her and waited for the scores. When she didn’t get the results she wanted, she came right back. This was the pattern over the last six years. When she left each time she would say, “If I don’t get it this time, I’ll be back.” And I’d always leave her with a “Good luck, I wish you the best.” Each time she didn’t pass, she would come right back. It was great to see her determination.
She was super excited when she passed the test this year. She gave us a call and thanked us for being here and offering this opportunity to her. It was one of her life goals to earn her HSE and I’m very proud and happy that she achieved it. She had a great attitude and she was always motivated. She even shared how her grandkids tried to help teach her. She just wouldn’t give up. To know, even at her age, that there’s no stopping someone, was just so inspiring. She would provide inspiration to other students too, to see her continue to come back.
What motivates your students to earn their high school equivalency?
It’s a range of reasons. Some students come in wanting to go further with their education. Some come in because they need to keep their jobs—their employers are telling them that they must have their HSE to maintain their position or their role. Most employers today want their employees to at least have their high school equivalency. We also have a lot of older students who come to us, I think because they know we offer a lot of patience with our students.
People also choose us because we’re accessible and flexible as a TASC testing center. Our organization is community-based, but we serve people from different areas across the state. We are a TASC testing center for the State of New York, not just our community, and we have people who come from as far away as Nassau County and Kings County to sit for a test because other testing centers may be full. Our center is accessible from the trains, the bus, and by car.
That’s one of the reasons we included the TASC testing component, as we served to fill a gap area to offer testing services to accommodate
individuals who didn’t have transportation to get to other testing sites. Several individuals were saying, why should we prepare for this exam if we can’t even get to a Test Center to take the test?
Our primary focus for providing a testing site solution in the City of Newburgh was to accommodate the local and extended demands in 2009. As such, our test center offers accessibility, flexibility, and accommodations.
What are some of the reasons why people don’t finish high school?
There are various reasons why people don’t finish the high school process. Some might include the following: some have dropped out of school because of financial hardships, homelessness, poverty, at – risk of failure, lack of motivation and support, lack of parental involvement, bored with the traditional educational setting and mode of instruction, pregnancy, or other life challenges. More recently, many students have offered bullying as a reason. Many who are attempting to avoid gang involvement and bullying are seeking alternative educational solutions.
You mentioned the importance of providing long-term life skills in addition to education. What does that look like?
We provide an array of workshops for individual participants. As an example, we provide a workshop component called Skills that Pay the Bills, which is a part of our personal and professional skills development. Many students who come in may not have learned basic financial skills as well as other life skills. We focus on further developing the fundamental skills that will help them obtain the experience that will sustain them in the long-term. A lot of times, students are focused on the short-term and just getting through this moment or this goal, but we want long-term sustainability for our students.
How would you describe your test center’s transition to offering the TASC Test?
It was a smooth transition from the GED® to the TASC Test.
How is the TASC Test administered at your test center?
We currently administer it as a paper-based test. Our projection is that we will be postured and prepared to offer online administration in 2019. We are fully aware that the online administration is the future direction and we are working toward that implementation.
What is the importance of affordable pricing for your students?
We don’t charge students for our programs, and there is no charge to take the TASC Test in New York State. The expense barrier is eliminated so that there aren’t any worries or concerns regarding having to pay out-of-pocket expenses.
What successes have you seen as a result of offering the TASC Test?
We’re seeing that students like the individualized approach when preparing for the TASC Test. It’s more like working independently rather than being in a traditional classroom setting where you might have people at higher levels who’ve already covered the content or lower-level students who aren’t ready for the content. The individualized approach allows every student to get what they specifically need at that point in time. I’m excited about the preparation for TASC Test for that reason. Students don’t feel like they’re wasting their time. When they need a group activity, or they need instruction, they also have certified teachers available to assist them with whatever their needs might be at any particular point in time.
What does it mean to your students to pass the TASC Test? What kind of reactions do you see?
Vera: They’re very excited. After they take the test, many call every week to ask if we have received their scores and if we have been informed whether they were successful in passing the test. They are very anxious to get their results. When they get the results, they’re very excited. They often call back to express their gratitude, and some send flowers and/or thank you cards. They’re very, very grateful. This inspires us to continue doing what we do. It’s such an inspiration to see them achieve their goals because now they can plan and prepare for other successes/achievements in their lives. It’s also meaningful to them because they’ve reached a level where they can with greater confidence help their children with school activities and assignments when they might not have been able to do so before. So, they’re not only parents, now they’ve become mentors and advocates for their children’s education.
Tynisa: It’s very exciting to see people achieve their goal. When they learn they’ve passed, they want to hug; they want to share the accomplishment with you. I tell them, “I’m proud of you, but you did that.” I want to make sure they know that it is their effort that has produced the results. And, I encourage them to continue growth—to see what’s next for them—and set new goals that they continue to pursue. A lot of them do go on with continued success. It makes me very proud and happy that we’re here for the community, and to see the life changes in people.
How do you recognize or celebrate your students’ achievements?
We have done several things over the years to celebrate students earning their HSE. Students that returned with their GED/HSE certificates were saluted and congratulated. We made copies of the certificates and had our face-to-face celebration with them. Copies of certificates were placed on our “wall of success” for others to see. When someone walks by the wall and recognizes someone they know and sees they’ve achieved success, it helps them to see that they can do it too. It helps to motivate and inspire others.
We have also offered graduation ceremonies in the past. We know that students would like us to offer this again, so we may go back to incorporating graduation ceremonies.
Do you hear from students after they leave your programs?
Yes, students often come back for additional training. We also do an employer connection program where we connect students to employers, and we host mini job fairs. A lot of students come back for those components and/or extended services.
What are you most passionate about at your center and the work that you do in Adult Education?
I am very passionate about having the opportunity to observe the life changes and witnessing individuals achieving their goals. It helps the individual, but it also helps the community because now you have a person who’s thinking on a higher level. They’re not thinking about how they can’t achieve their goals, but they are creating opportunities and encounters that can help them achieve their goals and experience good success. That’s an inspiration for me—when I can witness the transformation and accomplishments, see individuals succeed, as they are moving forward and doing that which was once stated as the impossible.
Any additional insights or comments of inspiration you’d like to add regarding aspiring HSE candidates at your center?
Education and wise choices are the pathways to success. Credentials and certificates indicate a level of mastery that provides increased confidence. We should embrace and take full advantage of the opportunity to obtain education as a lifelong process to experience a full and successful life. We take a holistic view of success at our center that promotes success of the whole person—mentally, physically, health-wise, educationally, and financially. Never give up … all things are possible.
Copyright © 2018 Data Recognition Corporation. All rights reserved. TABE is a registered trademark and TASC Test Assessing Secondary Completion is a trademark of Data Recognition Corporation. Data Recognition Corporation is not affiliated with The After-School Corporation, which is known as TASC. The After-School Corporation has no affiliation with the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (“TASC Test”) offered by DRC, and has not authorized, sponsored or otherwise approved.