Robert M. Hughes Academy

Mass. investigating a charter school: Springfield facility’s leap in MCAS scores preceded allegations (The Boston Globe, November 25, 2009)

By any standard, the rise was meteoric. The Robert M. Hughes Academy’s math scores this spring improved at the fastest pace in the state, with English scores not far behind.

It should have been a cause for celebrating this Springfield charter school, which was ordered by the state in January to improve its MCAS scores or face possible closure.

But yesterday, the state announced that it has launched a formal investigation into possible irregularities in the school’s administration of the exam, as well as additional allegations of mismanagement and fiscal improprieties that have subsequently surfaced.

“I take all of these matters very seriously,’’ Mitchell Chester, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said in a prepared statement. “Our investigation is continuing. As always, my primary concern is the well-being of the students, and I am committed to minimizing any disruption to their education.’’

Chester’s comment broke two months of silence on the issue. His office had previously denied the Globe’s repeated requests for information about why the department was probing the test results, and said that the state’s public records law allowed officials to with hold information about ongoing investigations...

In her letter, Henry acknowledged that two teachers at the school had accused her of instructing them to have students recheck their work when they were done with the spring MCAS exams, which would be a violation of state testing protocols. Henry, who met with state education officials about the allegations for the first time on Monday, denied any wrongdoing in the school’s administration of the exam…

* * * * * *

Charter school cheating detailed: Staff tell state of MCAS infractions (The Boston Globe, January 23, 2010)

One staff member at a Springfield charter school told state education investigators he felt so pressured by his principal last spring to improve MCAS scores that, in order to keep his job, he helped one student write an essay for the test.

Another staff member said he was fired after he accused the principal of encouraging cheating, while another staff member observed a colleague pull some students away from watching a movie so they could fix answers on their tests.

The findings, released yesterday by state education officials, offer the first public glimpse into the specific cheating allegations that have been leveled against Robert M. Hughes Academy, which was ordered last winter to improve its scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests to avoid being closed.

Previously, Mitchell Chester, commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, had said only that the cheating, described as pervasive and systemic, was orchestrated by the principal and carried out by several adults at the school, which teaches 180 students in kindergarten through grade 8…

Half of Hughes Academy’s 16 staff members told state investigators that they were either aware of or engaged in various acts of cheating, according to the findings released yesterday. In addition to the principal, the investigation placed some of the blame for orchestrating the cheating on an unnamed administrator who oversaw administration of the MCAS exam.

Shortly before testing began last March, either Henry or the unnamed administrator asked staff members to review the exams so they would be better prepared to identify incorrect answers on students’ tests, according to the report. Henry instructed staffers who spotted wrong answers to tell students to recheck their work, a violation of state testing protocol.

In another instance, one staff member observed some students, who had completed the MCAS once, taking it again during a make-up session designed for students who had for some reason missed it the first time. Under state rules, students can take the exam only once.

When the state received the results for the academy’s exams last summer, officials noticed that the scores had climbed at among the fastest rates in the state, raising suspicion…

In making his recommendation last month to close the school, Chester said he did not believe that Hughes Academy could overcome the alleged cheating scandal because of a myriad of governance issues and conflicts of interest involving the board of trustees over the years.

Four years ago, for instance, the state auditor discovered financial mismanagement related to operating deficits, questionable lease payments, no-bid contracts, undocumented expenditures on building improvements, and possible conflict of interest.

Henry has made similar accusations about financial mismanagement and conflicts of interest against trustees, which the state is investigating…

* * * * * *

Ed board upholds closing of Mass. charter school (The Boston Globe, May 25, 2010)

SPRINGFIELD, Mass.—An embattled charter school in Springfield is slated to close for good next month after losing an appeal before the state Board of Education.

The board originally voted in January to revoke the charter of the Robert M. Hughes Academy, which had been under investigation for cheating during last year's MCAS exams.

School officials appealed to an impartial hearing officer, who recommended that the board uphold the charter revocation.

The board's second vote on Monday means the Hughes Academy -- which has 180 students in kindergarten through 8th grade -- must cease operations at the end of the academic year on June 17.

School officials aren't giving up, however. They expect to file a lawsuit challenging the closing.


The Perimeter Primate said...

Judges rules Springfield charter school must close, July 26, 2010

"SPRINGFIELD, Mass.—A Suffolk Superior Court judge has refused to block the state-ordered shutdown of the Robert M. Hughes Academy Charter School in Springfield, ending a six-month legal fight..."

The Perimeter Primate said...

UPDATE: May 25, 2010


The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 8 to 1 yesterday to revoke the operating license of a Springfield charter school embroiled in an MCAS cheating scandal. The last day of classes at the 11-year-old Robert M. Hughes Academy will be June 17, the end of the school year. Its approximately 180 students in kindergarten through grade eight will have to find a new school for the fall. Earlier this month, a state hearing officer concluded that the academy’s principal orchestrated a scheme to cheat on last year’s MCAS tests, trying to avoid a state shutdown for uneven academic performance.