Tennessee Virtual Academy comes under fire for grade fixing

Tennessee Virtual Academy comes under fire for grade fixing

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"I kind of felt like they were helping fudge the answers," TNVA parent Hannah Hood said. "I kind of felt like they were helping fudge the answers," TNVA parent Hannah Hood said.

By SAMANTHA MANNING
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Tennessee parents are mixed on their reactions concerning Tennessee Virtual Academy and an apparent grade-fixing scandal.

The school, which began offering classes in August 2011, has received more than $15 million in public funding to serve students state-wide, though it is administered by Union County officials.

The poorly-performing academy came under fire last fall after scores placed the school among the state's worst performing schools.  

Then this week, WTVF in Nashville uncovered emails directing teachers to delete students' bad grades.

In an email, a TNVA administrator said:

"We expect you teachers to use your teacher discretion on the averaging of Unit Assessments.  If you know that your student has been earnest in their lessons, but the averaging of unit assessment has given the student an F, please consider counting the final grade to be used in Engrade. If a student makes a 75, then make a 90.  The average would be 82 (C) or accepting the 90 a B."

"I kind of felt like they were helping fudge the answers," TNVA parent Hannah Hood said.

Hood's six-year-old daughter Audrey has attended TNVA for around six months and Hood told 6 News she was not surprised by the accusations, because she has often felt the school encourages parents to influence tests.

"They were asking the parents to help the students with the test questions and guide their students along through the test," Hood said.

Other parents defended TNVA, saying it has helped their children tremendously.

"I think this is another measure to get rid of TNVA in our state," TNVA parent Pamela Helton said. "There are a lot of kids that need this. I am personally amazed with how far they have come."

Another parent wrote on WATE-TV's Facebook page and said, "Both of my children attend TNVA! We love it!" Kimberly Baker-Bowen wrote. "My son is autistic. He doesn't function well in a classroom setting. With TNVA, he is succeeding and doing amazing! TNVA has been a Godsend for us!"

TNVA responded on its website, saying it has done nothing wrong and said that changing grading policies is common in most schools.

"Our academic team simply modified our internal grading procedure to recognize middle school students' most recent progress and unit assessment scores rather than averaging a series of scores," TNVA said. "This modification was designed to help increase student engagement by rewarding students who made an extra effort."

A Knoxville state representative is also condemning the online school.

Rep. Gloria Johnson issued a statement on Tuesday denouncing the K12, Inc. education corporation for grade fixing at their in-state subsidiary, Tennessee Virtual Academy.

Rep. Johnson, a career schoolteacher, said Tuesday that deleting bad grades would never be acceptable at the Knox County public school where she teaches.

"Public school teachers are accountable for every student test score every time, and we have multiple layers of accountability to honestly measure student success," Johnson said. "This internal grade-fixing memo clearly shows that the Tennessee Virtual Academy's bottom line is protecting corporate profits instead of improving student learning.

"They lied to parents, they cheated kids and they stole from taxpayers," Johnson said. "Tennesseans deserve better than a big, out-of-state corporation cheating our children and taxpayers to line its own pockets, and it's time to fix this multi-million dollar mistake."

Proposals that would alter the laws governing the Tennessee Virtual Academy are scheduled for discussion in the state house on Tuesday afternoon.

One bill would require the state's Department of Education review the school annually to make sure that students are meeting academic requirements

The second would cap both the total number of students and the number of out-of-area students permitted to attend a virtual school based on student achievement.

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