Top students at highly rated Wake high school caught cheating

khui@newsobserver.comMay 3, 2012 

— A top-performing Wake County high school has been caught up in a cheating scandal involving some of its highest-scoring students.

Wake County school officials said Thursday that five juniors at Panther Creek High School were implicated in up to three incidents of cheating, including distributing copies of an exam. School administrators did not identify what type of test was involved.

Students and parents at the northwestern Cary school say some of the students cited for cheating had been among the top 10 percent in academic rank in the junior class.

“We took this matter very seriously and investigated,” said Cris Mulder, a Wake County schools’ spokeswoman.

Mulder said at least one student was removed from the National Honor Society, a nationwide organization that recognizes students for their scholarship, leadership, service and character.

A student who distributed a test to several classmates received a short-term suspension and several students received detention, Mulder said.

Under Wake County school board policy, students charged with cheating face a short-term suspension of up to five days from school. But the policy says the punishment can be increased to a long-term suspension of 11 or more days if aggravating factors are found.

Mulder said the academic consequences at Panther Creek for cheating include having to take an alternative exam or do an alternative assignment.

As of Wednesday, the school hadn’t officially notified parents of the cheating.

“The administration needs to communicate to students that there is a consequence for cheating,” said Jennifer Simis, a parent of a Panther Creek junior. Simis said the teachers need to do a better job of test security to make it harder for students to cheat.

Caroline Drysdale, a Panther Creek High junior, said obtaining of tests ahead of time made the cheating even worse.

“It was very unfair to the students who spend countless hours studying to succeed in difficult AP classes while sacrificing free time,” Drysdale said.

Pressure at the top

It wasn’t just a case of struggling students accused of cheating to pass. Drysdale and Hunter Patterson, the senior class valedictorian, said some of the students implicated were ranked among the top of the 577-student junior class. Patterson said he was surprised at the names of some of the students involved.

“I want to give them the benefit of the doubt,” Patterson said.

Drysdale wasn’t as sympathetic.

“I understand that these students had a lot at stake and feel pressured to get the best grades at all costs, but the rankings were not a true representation of the junior class,” she said.

National accolades

Last year, Panther Creek made both Newsweek’s and The Washington Post’s lists of the nation’s top public high schools. More than 94 percent of Panther Creek’s students passed state exams last year. It has the highest graduation rate for a school of its size in the state.

“The attitude of some parents to their kids is that if you don’t get an ‘A,’ you didn’t get the job done,” Simis said.

Simis said the cheating seemed to be so blatant among the students that she reminded her daughter that she would rather see her get a “B” grade honestly than an “A” grade from cheating.

Patterson said it’s extremely competitive academically among the top students.

“I hope this incident doesn’t really hurt Panther Creek’s image,” Patterson said.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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