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Nearly 40 nursing students have no classes to attend after their school was ordered to cease and desist by the state Board of Nursing.

First Choice Training Institute in Salem has been offering classes for five years, but the state said consistently poor test scores may force it to shut down the program.

Even school administrators admitted their pass rate on the national licensing exam is poor, something they attributed to the makeup of their student body. The said that in the first quarter of this year, 58 percent of the class failed the national licensing exam.

"On July 15, the board met and determined they could no longer approve the program," said Barbara Walker, executive director of the state Board of Nursing. "Last year, it was just getting worse and worse, and the students' results were getting lower and lower.

The state said the pass rate on the National Council Licensure Exam, or NCLEX, for the first graduating class in 2006 was 61 percent. In 2007 and 2008, the pass rate was just under 62 percent, compared to a national pass rate of 85 percent.

"We attribute it to the fact that many of our students are minority students," said Barbara Czumak, spokeswoman for First Choice.

School officials said the program is being treated unfairly by the board and that they plan to fight. They said 37 students are halfway through the program, and the institute wants to be allowed to continue to teach until they graduate next spring.

The school broke the news to its students Monday morning.

"There were tears, unhappiness, but I believe we have their support as a whole," Czumak said.

Another option could be a teach-out, in which students are placed in similar programs so they don't have to wait a month for a decision to be made.

The school said refunds will be made available if students want to transfer.

The state said students should be savvy consumers and research schools before signing a check for thousands of dollars. <!--stopindex-->