Newspaper article News Sentinel

Former STEM Student Alleges Cheating

Newspaper article News Sentinel

Former STEM Student Alleges Cheating

Article excerpt

For Jessica Rainwater, the fourth time was the charm. But not without help, she says.

The 16-year-old former L&N STEM Academy student, who is now a junior at Halls High School, says that while at the academy she was given her three prior tests to use while taking a history "End of Course" test a fourth time. She had failed the test the first three times.

"At the time I didn't think it was cheating or anything because the teacher approved it. And I thought if the teacher approved it then it must be fine," she said. "But I thought about it more and told Dad and he wasn't (happy)."

Knox County school officials said Jessica did not cheat on the exam and, while the procedure she went through was not uncommon, it is not a procedure that is followed any more. Officials also said the test that Jessica took was not the state-administered EOC -- which is used to determine district and state rankings and student proficiency -- but a locally created exam that didn't count toward her overall grade.

"The L&N, we follow all county policies, and what she's describing was a practice at the time because that was not a regular class," said Becky Ashe, the school's principal. "It was not a state EOC."

'One by ONe'

After failing her history EOC test at the end of her freshman year in 2012, Jessica was instructed she would have to attend summer school. She enrolled in the school system's credit recovery course - - in which students use an online program named Odyssey to learn the material they failed and still get credit for the class.

When she returned to the STEM Academy in the fall of her sophomore year, she took the test two more times, both in October, but again failed them.

Something was different the fourth time she took the test in December, she said.

"They said we could use the past three ones on this test. And she gave them to us, and we could start whenever we got them," Jessica said.

"I just went one by one copying down the answers I got right. Then from there I took all three of them (the tests) and sat them in front of me. For some of them, I had A, B, and C, on them, so the answer was obviously D, and I already knew the answer."

She passed the final test with a score of 90, according to an email from the school's guidance counselor.

Jessica said it wasn't until she was coming to the end of her sophomore year and realized she was going to fail another class that she began thinking about what had happened with the tests.

"I thought about what had happened a little more," she said. "It made me think more and more about it, so I told Dad that I assumed that it was cheating."

When Jessica told her father, John, he said he was shocked and immediately began making phone calls to find out what had happened.

"I had her explain it down to the detail," he said. "She thought it was wrong and she was afraid that it was going to happen to somebody else."

He has since removed both Jessica and his son from the STEM Academy.

Rainwater said he thinks the entire situation is unfair, not just for his daughter, but all students.

"It wasn't fair to her and it wasn't fair to the other kids that were forced to cheat. And it wasn't fair to the other kids who didn't have the opportunity to cheat. It's not fair to the ones that they're going to do this to again," he said.

"They put a kid in a position where you lay it down in front of them and said do it. These people have authority over these kids where they don't question and then they all turn up with A's after making F's."

In a letter from Laurie Driver, the school system's supervisor of assessment, Rainwater was told an inquiry was conducted and it was discovered that the issue was not related to the state's End of Course tests, but a procedural issue related to recover credit courses.

"We found that the L&N STEM Academy was not in alignment with our district procedures regarding administering the local assessment required for recovery credit courses," she wrote in the letter. …

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