Every person’s path to earning a high school equivalency (HSE) is unique. The one thing they all have in common is refusing to give up on their dreams. We sat down with Anna Marie Clark, who recently passed the TASC Test Assessing Secondary CompletionTM, to learn about her inspiring journey.
Your journey started back in 2006, when you dropped out of high school. Tell us about making that decision and what you were going through at the time.
When I found out that I was expecting my son, I decided to drop out because I didn’t have enough credits to even think about graduating that year. I was 17, so I decided that it was possibly easier to just drop out and try to get my GED®, but I was wrong about that.
You weren’t able to pass?
I took the GED two or three times, and after that, I kind of gave up on it. After the last time that I didn’t pass, in 2008, I just brushed it to the side and started looking for jobs.
How did not having a high school diploma affect you?
I worked a lot of different minimum wage jobs that just got me by. Then, I went to a couple of different Job Corps that didn’t work out. I eventually came back to New York State, again in the same situation, looking for different jobs. It was only minimum wage because I didn’t have a high school diploma at the time. I had to take what I could get.
What made you decide to go back to school?
I heard about an online high school program where you could earn your diploma. They told me at the time it was not accepted in New York State, but I just went ahead anyway, and I completed the program.
You had difficulties enrolling in college after you got your online diploma. What happened?
When I tried to go to college in 2016, I was told that they couldn’t accept my diploma from the online high school program. It wasn’t considered valid. So, in order to go to college, I had to get a superintendent to sign off on it. I was enrolled at my local college from 2016 to summer of 2018, pursuing an associate degree. But then I was dismissed because I was unable to pass the developmental math course to test into college-level math. I ended up enrolling at a couple of different colleges between summer of 2018 and the fall of 2019, all because of the math. Honestly, I wasn’t putting in the work that I was supposed to. After I would enroll into a math course, I would either stay in it for a couple of weeks and drop it, or I wouldn’t get the grade that I needed. I eventually failed a couple more times.
So, you couldn’t complete your associate degree without passing the math course. When did things finally change for you?
In the fall of 2019, I found a nearby college that accepted me into a few courses, and one of them was the math course that I needed. I thought, I have to stop playing around. If I want to go back to my local college, I have to put in the work. And I did. It seemed like almost every single day I was working on different math problems and assignments that were available for me to work on and prepare me for the tests and exams. So, I put the effort in, and I actually passed with an A-.
You put in the hard work and finally passed the math course you needed for college, but you still didn’t have a high school diploma that was accepted by New York State. What did you do?
Through my local BOCES program (Board of Cooperative Educational Services in New York State), I was offered to enroll in the National External Diploma Program (NEDP) in 2019 to try to earn my high school diploma that way. That was going to take about six to eight months to complete, which wouldn’t work for me as I was trying to enlist in the Navy (you need a high school diploma in order to get in). I didn’t want that to hold the process up. If they found out that I didn’t have a diploma, that would just delay my plan to enlist into the military. I was hesitant to even try to move forward in the process knowing I didn’t have an approved diploma.
When did you hear about the TASC test as a high school equivalency option?
Back in August of 2019, I was working with Robin DeLong from the Greater Southern Tier BOCES and the NEDP program. She told me, “Why don’t you take the TASC test and see how you do? Maybe you’ll pass it.”
At the time, I wasn’t so confident in the math section. Before that, in college, I wasn’t really putting in the work to understand certain math problems. I didn’t think I could pass the TASC test, so I decided to try the NEDP program and see if I could earn my diploma that way.
Robin encouraged me again in December, saying, “Why don’t you take the TASC test? I know you want to enlist in the military, and I know you have to have a high school diploma or equivalency. You never know. You might pass it, and then you don’t have to worry about being in this program [NEDP] for eight months.” She encouraged me to take the test, so, I took it.
What was taking the TASC test like for you?
Some of it was kind of hard for me, especially the science. Some of it was common sense, like the readings. I was kind of nervous about the writing part, but I had taken an English class, so it wasn’t too bad.
Did you feel prepared?
With my previous online high school program, I wasn’t being challenged. You could go online and look up the answers, and it didn’t really teach me anything. When I enrolled in college, I actually started in a remedial English course because I didn’t even know how to properly write. Since I dropped out of high school, I didn’t know how to write an essay or anything like that. So, that English course helped me build my skills in writing. And then, with this last math course, they really opened my eyes to relearning certain math problems. That helped prepare me for the TASC exam. I also got a Kaplan TASC test preparation book from Barnes and Noble to help me get ready to test.
What happened after you took the TASC test?
I waited, and I prayed. I got some of my [subtest] scores back the next day. A few days later, I got my last score, for writing, and found out that I had passed everything.
How did you react when you found out you passed?
I was like, thank you, God! I emailed Robin DeLong, the lady who I was working with from BOCES, and told her I passed. She congratulated me, and said she knew I’d been looking forward to this since 2006. I told her I wished I had done it sooner. I had just been avoiding the whole math issue, and trying to find ways to get around it.
After so many years of trying different things, what made you want to try the TASC test?
I realized that the online high school diploma program I did was just not good enough, and I was going to keep running into nothing but issues. I had to get a letter from the superintendent to be allowed to enroll in colleges. I didn’t want that headache anymore. It was a weight on my shoulders because every time I would apply for a job that required proof of graduation, I would never have it, other than that letter. And that’s not good enough. I thought, I have to get it. I can’t keep putting it off. So, I went, and I got it.
How did your family react?
They were happy. I wanted to be an example, especially to my son, because at the time he didn’t really like school and didn’t want to go. I told him he had to get an education. He’s 13 years old, and I didn’t want him dropping out two or three years from now when he’s old enough to drop. I didn’t want him saying, you dropped out, so I can too. I wanted to be that example for him. I can say, even though it’s years later, I still got it, and I want you to get yours while you can now. I wanted him to be able to look back and say yeah, my mother did get her diploma.
This was a long journey for you. How did you stay motivated to earn your high school equivalency?
Well, it really started when my son’s dad passed away in 2014. He did get his high school equivalency in 2009 when he was about 20. That was around the time that I was trying to get mine as well, and I just wasn’t really putting in the effort. In 2014, when he passed away, my daughter was only two months old. That was something that inspired me to go back and try to at least get my diploma.
During this past year, I really started to care about my future. My sister got a better job based on having her diploma. I was working jobs where I wasn’t paid enough. I had to take what I could get at the time, and I realized, I don’t want to do this anymore. I wanted not only a high school diploma; I also wanted my associate degree. I thought, I have to do something about it, and I have to do it now. I may not have tomorrow.
You mentioned you have a few more hours to complete your associate degree in criminal justice, and you’re also enlisting in the military. What does the future hold for you?
Enlisting in the military has been a long-term goal of mine. I recently tested at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Syracuse, New York, and passed the ASVAB test (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). I am supposed to swear into the United States Navy soon. I plan on enlisting in the Navy Reserves for now, while my daughter is young. They’ll be able to pay for future education. I plan to pick a rate as YN (Yeoman) or PS (Personnel Specialist). I am graduating with my associate in criminal justice degree, and one of those rates would prepare me in transitioning to a rate of LN, which is Legalman (paralegal) for the Navy. I do have a desire to eventually go to law school. I also hope to make a career within the Navy as a long-term reservist and possibly go active at some point.
I’m also registering to take the court officer exam for New York State. They have a training academy during the week, and I’d be able to come home on the weekends. I will take the exam and then if I get a call, I’ll have up to four years to take them up on the opportunity to move forward. In the meantime, I’m hoping I can get a job as a paralegal working at a law office.
What would you say to someone who is considering taking the TASC test for the first time?
I would encourage them to take it as soon as possible. Don’t delay it any further, especially if you want to go to college or you want to start a career. Even if you feel like you’re not prepared, just go and take it and see if you pass. I’d recommend getting a Kaplan TASC test preparation book or another TASC test study book; read through it and take notes and watch videos if you need to. I’d also recommend taking classes if you really need that one-on-one with a teacher or instructor to help you prepare.
I’ve been encouraging a couple of my cousins, too. One is 24 and the other one’s going to be 30. I told them about the NEDP program and about the TASC test. I’m encouraging them to take it as soon as possible.
If you don’t have it, just go and get it. Don’t delay, because you’re going to find yourself five or ten years down the road in the same situation, with a minimum wage job; and in the end, you’re going to still be stuck. That’s what I felt; I felt stuck. By not having my high school diploma, I was held back from doing a lot of the things that I truly wanted to do. I realized I didn’t want to be in that place anymore. I wanted so much better. And that starts with getting your diploma or HSE.