Officials confirm test cheating in Clarksdale schools

booksCLARKSDALE — State education officials said today that Clarksdale school district employees engaged in cheating on student tests or at least knew about it.

In a statement, the Mississippi Department of Education said it had determined that an investigation conducted by testing security firm Caveon determined that “reasonable cause” existed to believe that employees had broken security rules on state standardized tests, improperly inflating test scores at the city’s Heidelberg Elementary.

State officials said they were moving on to 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.”

That includes more interviews to determine if individuals did something illegal or unethical and give them a chance to defend themselves. The state has, in the past, revoked professional licenses of teachers and principals involved in test cheating.

Superintendent Dennis Dupree said he was unaware of any findings and hasn’t spoken with Caveon, even though the firm has been investigating the Clarksdale situation since May.

“I don’t know what the finding is, to be honest,” Dupree told The Associated Press.

Dupree, who has denied wrongdoing, said he would welcome a chance for the district to defend itself.

“We haven’t had a chance to do any of that yet,” he said.

The state began investigating in May after The Clarion-Ledger reported claims that test results were falsified at Heidelberg.

State officials say that while they are trying to move quickly, the inquiries could continue into 2015. In a statement, state Superintendent Carey Wright said the department “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.”

The department has signed contracts worth nearly $300,000 with Utah-based Caveon in recent months. As part of the department’s $3.7 billion budget request for the 2016 budget year, it asked for $1 million to set aside for future cheating investigations. Wright has said state officials are considering launching inquiries into test scores in other districts.

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