This article was originally published by WireTap.
July 3, 2008
My name is Latricia Wilson. I was born in Gary, Indiana but currently reside in Memphis, Tennessee. I am 25 years old and a student at Tennessee Technology Center. Just a few years ago I wasn’t sure if I would be able to achieve any higher education or vocational training because my high school denied me a standard diploma despite the fact that I had completed all of my courses.
I was denied a proper diploma because I had failed to pass the math section of a new end of year test by a few points.
The Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program Achievement Tests (TCAP), now called the Gateway Exam (PDF), are part of the state’s assessment program. The high-stakes exit exam I took is part of a growing trend around the country leaving thousands of students without diplomas.
Prior to graduating high school, my career goals were to be a hairstylist and television makeup artist. After being denied a standard high school diploma in 2002 for failing to pass the TCAP math section, I was denied entry into all beauty schools even though I was on the technical/vocational path in high school and had taken cosmetology classes during my high school career. I was also denied entry into other Memphis technical and community colleges and universities.
I struggled as an adult to make a living wage to support myself. I worked as a waitress for years, took on double shifts and was just barely able to pay my rent. I was getting further away from my career goals and sinking deeper into poverty and debt. Eventually, I was evicted from my apartment. I’ve truly experienced how difficult it is to be an independent adult without a valid high school diploma. But I decided to do something about it, and started a quest to regain my rightful degree.
This is my own experience with Tennessee’s public education system and how I was able to change it.
I was one of many students denied a high school diploma for failure to pass the TCAP tests in 2002. I had a mild learning disability in math, which made passing those TCAP sections difficult. I was enrolled in math resource classes from the ninth grade, and instructed at a slightly lower grade level than my classmates. Despite this, I was repeatedly administered the TCAP on a higher grade level than the one at which I was taught. As a result, I was unable to pass the math section by the end of senior year.
I was allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony, but instead of a regular diploma I received a “special education diploma,” awarded to students with physical, emotional or severe learning disabilities not able to meet standard diploma requirements. But, having passed 20 credits in regular classes just like other students, I was qualified. I was mislabeled for no reason other than having failed the TCAP math section.
I was told by more than one high school guidance counselor that I could still further my education to some degree. I later learned that technical, vocational, community colleges and universities in Tennessee wouldn’t accept my special diploma, because these institutions don’t consider it a valid graduation certificate.