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Oxford Prep Academy's Cheating Charges 'Unfounded,' Capistrano School District Report Says

The school district's investigator cannot substantiate accusations that Oxford teachers tampered with state tests.

Editor's Note: OPA has applied to open a charter school in the Carlsbad Unified School District, a school board decision will be made on the matter 12/5/12

An investigator for the Capistrano Unified School District has dismissed as unfounded rumors that a charter school cheated to get near-perfect results on state testing.

Cheating allegations at Oxford Preparatory Academy first surfaced in October. The district and OPA hired separate investigators to look into the claims and clashed over cooperating with each others' efforts.

Oxford released a summary of its third-party investigator findings in late October. School district officials received a final report from their own investigative team last week.

Both said none of the claims could be substantiated.

CUSD and OPA officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The district’s report, a copy of which was made available to Patch for review, said an anonymous complaint about Oxford came to the district in early September. By late September, Jodee Brentliner, assistant superintendent of personnel services, was contacting an investigative firm, T. Davis & Associates, for hire.

The report said investigator Nicole Miller was never able to identify the original complainant. An Oxford parent later came forward but was unable to provide any firsthand information, the report states.

The allegations centered on whether OPA teachers encouraged parents of underperforming students to forego Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, exams; whether teachers coached students on the right answers during testing; and whether OPA personnel erased and changed answers.

District investigators found no merit to any of the accusations.

“The allegations that OPA was suggesting/encouraging parents to opt out of STAR testing are unfounded,” the report states.

The investigator interviewed 26 people, including Oxford employees, parents and CUSD personnel, according to the report.

As for the claim that teachers or proctors gave students the right answers during the test, the anonymous allegation asserted that facial expressions were used to coach students.

That allegation involved a Capistrano Unified special education teacher assigned to work at OPA, and she administered the test privately to one student, so there was no way to substantiate the claim, the district’s investigator reported.

Finally, the investigator was unable to interview anyone with “actual knowledge” about OPA personnel changing answers after students turned in their tests, the report said.

“We did not find evidence that OPA staff members erased incorrect student answers and filled in correct answers on the STAR test," the report states.

The investigator did find that one student took the wrong math test. However, deciding which test to give is at the discretion of the school, so there was no wrongdoing. And, the student took a more advanced math test, not an easier one.

The report concluded with a recommendation that Oxford employees review guidelines for administering state testing.

The attorney who conducted the third-party invesgitation into the same allegations for OPA said her review reached similar conclusions, even though her efforts to interview the CUSD special education teacher assigned to the charter school last year were stymied.

The school district's attorney "never responded to my request for an interview of that teacher. In contrast, Ms. Miller was permitted to interview OPA teachers and an administrator as part of her investigation," said San Diego-based attorney Hollis Peterson.

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