NYC Student Tackles the Last Test Standing Between Her and a High School Diploma

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Danielle Motindabeka records her narration at WNYC.

When Radio Rookie Danielle Motindabeka came to the United States at age 13, she didn’t speak English. By the time she was in high school, Danielle had mastered the language well enough to pass six Regents exams and maintain an 85 average. There was just one thing keeping her from earning a diploma: the U.S. History Regents exam.

Danielle has failed the U.S. History exam three times. It is one of the five Regents required to earn a diploma in New York State. She said she felt frustrated by this obstacle. She overcame so much since coming to the United States. She left her mother in the Congo to join her father. He then left Danielle behind with her step-family to live in a series of homeless shelters. 

Despite all the tumult, Danielle made a home for herself. She was looking forward to college.

In many ways, Danielle's story is not unusual. The graduation requirements in New York State have proven challenging to English Language Learners, according to the most recent state data. The graduation rates for English Language Learners has dropped three years in a row, and is now just over 31 percent statewide.

In New York City, the ELL graduation rate fell to 32.3 percent in 2013 from 39.4 percent the previous year.

Yet Danielle's story is exceptional because of her particular experiences and her perseverance. She has taken the U.S. History exam three times this year without success. She has decided to go for a fourth and final attempt. She finds out the results later this week.

This story is part of American Graduate, a public media initiative addressing the dropout crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.