For Immediate Release: August 5, 2014
MDE, Caveon Continue Second Phase of Clarksdale Municipal School District Investigation
JACKSON, Miss. – Upon completion of the preliminary investigation into cheating allegations at Heidelberg Elementary S.T.E.A.M. Magnet School (HES), the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) determined that reasonable cause existed to believe that Clarksdale Municipal School District (CMSD) employees engaged in or were aware of potential violations of Mississippi testing regulations. MDE’s finding of reasonable cause warranted a deeper, comprehensive investigation in order to make complete and conclusive findings of fact and, if necessary, take appropriate actions in response to such findings.
Accordingly, the second phase of the MDE’s investigation is under way to determine the complete scope of unethical and/or unlawful conduct for which reasonable cause exists, identify all persons who knew of and/or participated in it, give each implicated person an opportunity to respond to the evidence and determine what, if any, actions MDE must take accordingly. This phase of the investigation will include additional interviews of students, parents, educators and administrators in the near future.
In May 2014, the MDE promptly initiated a preliminary investigation with assistance from Caveon Investigative Services (CIS) upon receiving reports (including reports previously mentioned in the media) CMSD employees were aware of and/or participated in unethical and potentially unlawful conduct in relation to the administration of the Mississippi Curriculum Test (MCT2) at HES. Thus, the purpose of the preliminary investigation was to determine whether there was any merit to the reported allegations including, but not limited to, possible violations of Mississippi test administration regulations.
In the course of the preliminary investigation, MDE and CIS investigators reviewed and analyzed relevant data and documents, including emails and other records related to the administration of MCT2 exams at HES and other schools in CMSD. Investigators also interviewed numerous witnesses, including students, parents, teachers and CMSD stakeholders in Clarksdale.
When the current phase of the investigation is completed, MDE will release its conclusions to the public after determining what actions, if any, it will take in response to the findings, and after all persons affected by such actions, if any, are informed of MDE’s decisions.
“MDE is moving with a great sense of urgency to complete the investigation. However, in order to enable MDE to make findings of fact that are thorough and fair, MDE will not adhere to an artificially short timetable in response to increased media attention or political pressure. Proper investigations of this nature require careful attention to details and take significant time to complete,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education.
Investigations of a similar nature in other school districts throughout the country have taken as few as six months and as long as four years to complete (in school districts such as Houston, TX, Atlanta, GA, Philadelphia, PA, Las Vegas, NV and El Paso, TX).
“MDE fully expects that the investigation in relation to HES will be completed in less than one year from the date that it was initiated. Thus, in the context of similar state educational assessment investigations, MDE is confident that this investigation is moving at an appropriate, efficient pace,” Wright said.
MDE strives to ensure that all students in Mississippi receive a fair and complete education. A vital objective of standardized assessments is to ensure that students who require additional educational resources can be identified so that they may receive special services if they qualify. Fraudulent MCT2 test results, if they exist, deprive students who need special services from obtaining them because their test scores indicate that they do not qualify for the services.
Fraudulent MCT2 scores further place students at a disadvantage if they are advanced to a grade level that they are not prepared for, without the necessary skills to catch up. Such a result is simply unfair and could have lasting effects on the students who are not getting the help they need.
MDE strongly encourages all CMSD students, parents and district employees to fully cooperate with MDE’s investigation and be honest and forthcoming with MDE about any knowledge that they may have that relates to the investigation, in an effort to help the children of Clarksdale. CMSD employees in particular should not feel in the least bit disloyal or unprofessional for providing truthful information to MDE at any time. To the contrary, educators who help expose unethical, unlawful or unprofessional behavior at Mississippi schools represent the best of the education profession and are helping to make it better for everyone concerned, most of all their students, and will therefore be treated accordingly by MDE.
If any person has information related to this investigation, please call the test security hotline at 1-844-210-1191 or submit the information through MDE’s website at http://testsecurity.k12.ms.us/.
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