Students fail amid high stakes, technology

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Dozens of students at the Alcorn State University School of Nursing met with administrators Monday to air concerns about comprehensive tests taken on March 30.

Many of the students will re-take the test on Thursday.

Complaints were twofold &8212; first, that passing scores for the Health Education Systems Incorporated tests were raised at the end of the fall semester from 875 to 900; second, that during the HESI tests, for the first time provided by Internet over a secure site, computers reacted slowly and crashed more than once.

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Keith Sanders, a student in the associate-degree nursing program, passed the test.

Still, he understands the frustrations of students who failed to make the grade.

&8220;The computers froze, and we were disconnected several times,&8221; he said. &8220;Confidence really dropped in the ability of the computer to accurately assess test scores. In all fairness, a retest would be warranted.&8221;

Dean Mary Hill heard the concerns and said she and others at the school &8220;will do what&8217;s in the best interest of the students.&8221;

Hill acknowledged problems during the tests. &8220;It was not with the equipment at the School of Nursing but with HESI,&8221; she said. &8220;I called the owner of HESI, and they cleared up the problem.&8221;

The 71 Alcorn students took the test with about 15,000 other students at the same time. Sanders said students had taken similar tests in writing or by using individual diskettes. &8220;We never had a problem before,&8221; he said.

Monica Boyd, an honors student who did not pass the test, was among those who found discrepancies in the answers they had selected on the test.

&8220;I found at least 10 discrepancies in my own answers,&8221; she said. &8220;I knew I had not selected those answers. I learned later some other students had the same problem.&8221;

Boyd said she believes she would have passed the test if those 10 answers had been logged properly.

&8220;Those were very simple questions, the kinds of questions that you as a student would know,&8221; she said. &8220;They should have stopped the test right then or thrown out that test.&8221;

Hill said she is taking all the concerns into consideration. &8220;I encourage students to trust us in terms of doing what&8217;s right and to put that energy into studying,&8221; she said.

Students have worried that computer failure during the Thursday test could mean they will not graduate in May. They have two chances to take and to pass the HEMI.

&8220;I told them that in the event of another computer glitch, we will take that into consideration,&8221; Hill said. &8220;First, this is a process. Second, we will thoroughly assess the process and make the best decision.&8221;

Kimberly Bass also is an honors student. She is one of four students who would have passed the test if the passing score had not been raised. An associate-degree student, she made 881.

&8220;I&8217;m one of the ones who made over 875 but not 900,&8221; she said. &8220;My issue was how the passing score was increased on such a short notice.&8221;

Hill said the decision to raise the score was based on a two-year study. &8220;The bar for the School of Nursing has been raised in order to ensure and protect the public,&8221; she said.

&8220;We are a service profession. We have to be sure our students have demonstrated the requisites of the common skills to be safe, practicing nurses.

&8220;At the end of a two-year period, we did the retrospective analysis of Alcorn State University School of Nursing data on our students and data from the summary scoring report from HESI sent to us in 2005,&8221; she said.

The HESI test is a predictor of how well students will do on the National Council for Licensure Examination, she said. The 900 passing score reflects results of the analysis.

Student John Evans said he feels confident in his knowledge, but he finds it scary that a mechanical failure could have an impact on a test score.

&8220;This is two years of your life. No one to stand up for you when the computers fail &8212; that&8217;s scary.&8221;

Sanders said even though he does not have to re-take the test Thursday, he is nervous about it.

&8220;I don&8217;t have to take it, but my friends that I&8217;ve gone to school with for two years have to take it,&8221; he said.

Bass, who missed the passing cutoff by nine points, will take the test again Thursday. &8220;This is life-altering,&8221; she said. &8220;You work hard for two years to get to this point.&8221;