Miller-McCoy Academy

Last year, several teachers at Miller-McCoy Academy in eastern New Orleans told Recovery School District officials they feared someone on the school's staff had opened high-stakes exams in advance so students could be prepped on a few actual test questions.

An RSD investigation concluded some kind of cheating had likely occurred at the all-boys middle and high school. Then, Miller-McCoy's board of directors conducted its own investigation, which found no evidence of wrongdoing. In the end, the conflicting findings of the two probes were never fully reconciled.

The handling of the matter raises important questions about how cheating allegations are investigated. In most Louisiana school districts, central office personnel handle the task and report the results to state officials, often with a recommendation about whether to void scores.

There's a natural conflict there, experts say, in that most school districts are less than eager to announce they've found corruption in their midst.

At charter schools, the conflict might be more acute, some say, because charter boards play a role in investigations. Board members can be recruited by a school's administrators, which might make it even more difficult for them to take a hard look at allegations.

"If you are committed to finding out the truth, you need individuals who are not connected in any way to the individuals involved," said Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing.

In Louisiana's current setup, there is "a conflict of interest all the way up the line," and not just as it relates to charter schools, said Gregory Cizek, a professor of educational measurement at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "No one has a really strong interest in investigating in a really searching manner," he said.

That's why some states have started putting such investigations under the jurisdiction of the state attorney general's office or another independent entity, he said...

The Miller-McCoy investigation began in the spring of 2010 when several staff members alleged that, just days before students were to take high-stakes tests, school administrators had given teachers math questions or essay topics that were uncannily similar to those that appeared on the state exam days later. Three staff members came in to meet with RSD personnel, while two others provided interviews; all told, nearly 20 percent of the school's teachers raised concerns. The administrators asked teachers to use the questions to prepare students for the exam, according to the RSD report on the matter and interviews with three of the teachers...

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