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Don’t Let Any Lowly Bureaucrat Stop You: NYC Teen’s Guide to Getting Your High School Equivalency Diploma

In October, Gregory Wickham wrote Part #1 of Testing Center Makes Up Rules to Prevent Black Teen From Earning High School Equivalency Diploma, detailing his struggles with New York City bureaucracy. Here’s what happened next:

The initial part of my story was much more exciting than the finale. After my first attempt at registration was rebuffed, I emailed the New York State High School Equivalency Office explaining the situation. I asked them to contact the test center directly, but instead they sent me an email that I then forwarded to the testing center.

The testing center responded by asking me to get my registration form signed by my parent, even though I was 18. Luckily, I was able to do that very easily. Next, they requested another form of ID, so I sent them a scan of my passport.

Then, a test center employee called me to explain everything which would take too long to clearly explain via email. Most of the critical information was reiterated in my registration ticket, which I was promptly sent after the phone call.

I suspect that throughout the email conversation which allowed me to finally register, I was communicating with an entirely different person than the person who had responded to my initial email. This new person seemed to understand their job, and their grammar and spelling were much better.

My testing ticket included basic testing information like when and where to show up and what kinds of ID were acceptable, as well as information about their COVID protocols.

They explained that on the day of the test, I would have to scan the QR code on my testing ticket that would take me to the COVID screening site. Then I would fill out the questionnaire and show my results at the door.

At the testing center itself, they had the url and QR code posted on a large poster on the wall outside the entrance, and the person checking everyone in made sure that everyone completed the screening and advised us to take a screenshot of our confirmations so we wouldn’t have to worry about the page reloading.

Registration and testing required a ridiculous amount of ID. I used my voter registration to verify my residency and my passport and social security card to verify my identity. All registrants are required to have two forms of ID with them at the testing center. If I hadn’t registered to vote before I turned 18 and had never traveled internationally, I wouldn’t have had sufficient ID to register.

As we went inside, each of us had our temperature taken. Each of us then put all of our personal electronics into a small plastic bag. A sticker with our name and testing room was placed on each bag, and the bags were sorted into boxes by testing room, so that we could retrieve our belongings after the test.

The Brooklyn Adult Learning Center is clearly a very nice building, if somewhat run-down. I took the test in the same room (evidently a phlebotomy classroom when not in use for testing) on both days.

There were two rows of tables, with computers at every chair around the perimeter of each table. We were seated with two or three seats between each person, presumably to discourage cheating and disease spread.

On the first day, we completed some forms, and were given small slips of paper with a username and password. Every person had a unique username and password for each section of the test. We were able to sign in to the application on the computer and start the test when we were ready. We didn’t have synchronized start and end times for everybody in the building (or everybody in the world) like with most other tests I’ve taken. This meant that we could take as much time as we needed between sections to eat or go to the bathroom. We could also move on to the next section if we finished the current one early.

The test’s user interface was remarkably easy to use, although it was somewhat old-fashioned. Its large buttons and clear options reminded me of the Dora the Explorer game that was installed on the computers at one of the libraries I used to frequent as a child. The interface allows you to easily skip between questions, see your progress in the test, flag questions to come back to, and see which questions you haven’t answered yet.

The most important part of taking any standardized test is knowing the test. I didn’t know what order I was going to be taking each section in, or on which day, but I knew what to expect in each section. 

One woman whom I spoke to as I left the building on the second day of testing, was not so well prepared. She had seen that she had a significant amount of time left as she approached the final questions of the English subsection, so she took her time with her answers. When she reached the final question, she found that it was the essay question, and she had only budgeted enough time for a multiple-choice. If you take the TASC, be careful not to make this mistake!

I was able to view my scores within a day of taking each subtest, except in the case of English,  where the essay had to be manually graded. However, simply passing every subsection does not make you a high school equivalent. I refreshed New York’s HSE Status Report website almost every day after taking the test, waiting for my equivalency to be officially issued and recorded.

As promised, 8-10 weeks (actually 7 weeks and 5 days) after taking the test, my high school equivalency diploma was issued and mailed to me.

Unfortunately, only diplomas mailed directly from the state’s High School Equivalency Office are valid. So, when I applied to CUNY, I had to complete Application H and make a $10 money order to send to Albany. There was then another 8-10 week wait between their receiving the form and their sending it to the recipient you designate, but to my surprise, it worked exactly the way it said it would work.

I saw when my request was processed on the HSE Status Report site, and I saw in my CUNY application portal when it was received. There’s no technical reason the process couldn’t be done online, but if it works as is, I can see why they wouldn’t want to change it.

If you take the TASC to earn your high school equivalency, make sure to read all the relevant rules carefully and follow the directions. If anybody tries to lie to you about the rules or regulations your only defense will be your ability to prove them wrong. You may have to go over some people’s heads and the process will take longer than it should, but there’s no way, as far as I can tell, to accelerate any of the steps.

Hopefully this preview will help prepare you to get your own High School Equivalency. Don’t let any lowly bureaucrat stop you, and make sure you have the required forms of ID before you even try to register for an exam. The ID requirements are the easiest place to stop you. Don’t let them.

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