A for-profit school that was hyped by Republican lawmakers as a solution to Tennessee's education problems recently admitted deleting bad grades to "more accurately recognize students' current progress."
A December email obtained by WTVF showed that Tennessee Virtual Academy's vice principal instructed middle school teachers to delete "failing grades" from October and September.
"After ... looking at so many failing grades, we need to make some changes before the holidays," the email says, adding that each teacher needed to "take out the October and September progress [reports]; delete it so that all that is showing is November progress."
"If you have given an assignment and most of your students failed that assignment, then you need to take that grade out."
Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson said she was horrified because the school's instructions amounted to cheating.
"Does it talk about we need to make changes in curriculum? Does it talk about we need to make changes in our teaching strategy? No," Johnson told WTVF. "Those changes we need to make are deleting grades from the computer system."
"To come in and say 'everybody who made failing grades the first two months, we need to delete those grades,' to me that's a huge issue," she explained. "To me, this appears like it's grade fixing."
Tennessee Virtual Academy Principal Josh Williams insisted that the school had taken the steps to "more accurately recognize students' current progress."
"By going back into our school's electronic grading system and recording students' most recent progress score (instead of taking the average throughout the semester) we could more accurately recognize students' current progress in their individualized learning program," he told the station in an email.
The Virtual School Act was pushed through by lobbyists and approved by Republican lawmakers in the closing minutes of the May 2011 legislative session. The bill allowed Union County Public Schools to contract with K12 Inc. to set up Tennessee Virtual Academy. In exchange, Union County was expected to keep 4 percent of the $5,387 being sent to the private company for each student.
Democratic lawmakers are now attempting to cap enrollment at 5,000 after 2011 test scores showed that only 16.4 percent of middle school students were proficient in math, and only 39.3 percent were proficient in language arts.
At the end of last month, there were 3,149 students enrolled in the online school.
The K12 Inc. CEO was compensated more $2.6 million in 2010. The company's chief financial officer made more than $1.7 million. By comparison, Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman had a salary of $200,000 in 2011, making him the highest-paid cabinet officer at the time.
Watch this video from WTVF, broadcast Feb. 11, 2013.