Alcorn reverses nursing exam policy

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 6, 2010

NATCHEZ — At least 20 Alcorn State University nursing students will wear their crisp white uniforms after all.

The students are set to graduate Saturday after ASU reinstated its 2008 grading policy for the Health Education Systems, Inc., nursing exit exam.

“Alcorn State University is working with the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning to address the situation,” ASU Associate Vice President for University Relations Clara Ross Stamps said in an e-mail press release. “The policies that were in place in August 2008 when the affected students began the (Associate Degree in Nursing) program will be reinstated.

“Ensuring that students in our nursing programs are successful in their classroom and clinical work, and enter the workforce prepared to provide high quality health care continues to be our first priority.”

The students and their parents waited nervously inside the Adams County Chancery courtroom Wednesday, after having filed a lawsuit against ASU for enforcing new scoring requirements one year into their studies.

In August 2008, when the majority of the students began their studies at ASU, the school’s policy stated a student must score at least 75 percent on the departmental comprehensive exit exam — the HESI exit exam — to graduate, according to a copy of the policy provided by students.

Students were allowed to take the exam three times beginning in March, and prior to each retake, students were required to work with faculty to develop and implement an individualized performance plan.

In August 2009, ASU School of Nursing Dean Dr. Linda Godley sent a memorandum to faculty, staff and students stating students must score an average of 75 percent on teacher-made tests prior to the exam, and a minimum score of 900 on the exam. According to a copy of the memorandum, also provided by students, the exam would be administered only one time.

Thirty-one students took the exit exam April 29. Only eight passed, student Kari Guido said in a previous report.

Guido said if students were evaluated according to the previous policy, the majority of the class would have passed the exam. The students argued the policy in place when they were admitted should remain.

When attorney Deborah McDonald informed the students of ASU’s decision, the courtroom roared with shouts and applause. Then came the tears.

Mothers embraced their daughters as fathers fought back tears of joy.

“I feel awesome,” a misty-eyed Guido said. “We finally did it. We knew we deserved it, and we got it.”

Student Kayla Rawlings, who was only six points shy of a 900 HESI score, embraced her family upon hearing the outcome.

“Words can’t describe how we feel because we deserved it,” Rawlings said. “By ASU doing this, they know how much this meant to us. I know I deserved this, and I worked hard for this.”

Judge Vincent Davis, who did not rule in the case since ASU reneged, commended the students for standing their ground.

“At this point, I can’t say who’s right and who’s wrong, but I commend you all for standing up for what you believe in,” Davis said. “But it appears things have been worked out, and it’s one less decision this court has to make.”

ASU afforded students the opportunity to retake the exam at 1 p.m. Wednesday, but only five students showed up, according to students inside the courtroom. Three of those students were informed they would graduate without taking the exam, and two took the exam.

ASU informed students about the retake via phone, text messaging and e-mail Tuesday evening. Rawlings said ASU did not give her or her classmates sufficient time to review test materials.

“They should have given us fair enough warning to prepare for that test,” Rawlings said before ASU announced its decision. “I don’t think any of us are emotionally stable to take that test.”

The ASU School of Nursing pinning ceremony is set for 1 p.m. today on the Natchez campus.