Charter School to Investigate Cheating Allegations

Capistrano Unified officials allege Oxford Prep may have cheated during the May STAR testing. The charter has hired a third-party investigator to look into the matter.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Story updated at 5:20 p.m. with comments from the district and OPA officials.

Amid allegations of cheating during statewide standardized testing, Oxford Preparatory Academy has hired a law firm to investigate the matter.

The Mission Viejo-based charter is expected to earn near-perfect scores on California’s Academic Performance Index to be released later this week. However, the school’s board of trustees voted to hire a law firm to investigate the testing after Capistrano Unified School District’s Superintendent Joe Farley informed OPA officials that the school’s charter could be revoked in the face of misconduct.

Capo spokesman Marcus Walton said there was little he could discuss publicly.

"The district cannot discuss this issue publicly, but will fulfill its obligations with any charter school for which it serves as a charting agency," he said.

OPA Superintendent Sue Roche said she knows the allegations will go unsubstantiated. Farley's letter was the first she had heard of them.

"Not one allegation has ever been stated to me at all," she said.

Still, the charter's own board of directors, acted immediately to investigate the claims, Roche said. 

Attorney Gregory Moser says in his letter to CUSD that his firm has been retained by OPA officials to conduct a third-party investigation into the matter. Moser sent a letter to the district, asking CUSD officials to detail the allegations in writing.

"We hope that the district and OPA can work cooperatively to determine whether the allegations of misconduct have any merit," Moser wrote.

On the other hand, should CUSD decide to run a separate investigation, OPA officials "will not grant the district separate access to its teachers and/or students," Moser wrote.

As first published at the Orange Juice Blog Sunday, Farley notified OPA last week that there may have been some misconduct at Oxford Preparatory Academy during the May Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, exams. The letter did not include specifics about the allegations.

In August, the state released the STAR results, and based on those results, OPA officials calculated what the school’s so-called API (Academic Performance Index) at .

At the direction of the OPA school board, Moser said, his firm, Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch of San Diego, has tapped another attorney to “examine these claims and direct corrective actions, if necessary.”

Moser told Patch the letter is authentic. 

"We expect the allegation made by the accompanying post to be disproven when testing data for Oxford Prep is publicly released by the state for this spring," he said. "Participation by at least 95 percent of the school's students is required under California's testing rules for scores to be valid."

Oxford opened in September 2011, sharing a campus with Barcelona Hills Elementary in Mission Viejo at the school district’s direction. Earlier this year, trustees decided to close Barcelona and allow Oxford to expand its K-8 student population.

Just this weekend, the charter announced that it will now apply to become a K-12 school in Capo. School officials have encouraged OPA supporters to attend to tonight’s CUSD school board meeting to show support.

Meanwhile, through the Orange Juice Blog, the Capistrano Unified Children First organization has called upon its supporters to also show up to tonight’s school board meeting. The blog predicts hundreds of parents will show up to demand the district conduct its own investigation into misconduct allegations.

The board meets 7 tonight at the district headquarters, 33122 Valle Road in San Juan Capistrano.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The manner in which Superintendent Joe Farley informed Oxford officials of possible misconduct is not clear from the OPA attorney's letter. The article has been edited to reflect this ambiguity.

Proud Mom October 10, 2012 at 02:17 AM
Gabrielle, you are correct. Many OPA parents thought there would be some people questioning the validity, when the predicted scores were reported. I can tell you from personal experience, that I have personally spoken to dozens of families whose children were basic or below basic at their previous schools in their STAR test results, and this year, their children got proficient or above. So many smiles, laughter, and congratulatory hugs were received by many OPA students. These children worked so hard and were ready for the STAR test. My children have been taught so much, in many different ways - through music, movement, etc.. Some of their homework assignments are even out of the norm. For example ... spelling out spelling words while bouncing a ball, playing musical notes, clapping, or making a rhyme. Spelling words can be written with chalk on the sidewalk. The list goes on and on. My children have always been great students, but the difference now is that - per my child's own words, "Mom, I remember everything I learn now." Now that is very telling to me. How awesome is it to not only learn, but remember what you learn. :) Thank you OPA!!
InformedParent October 10, 2012 at 02:29 AM
How do you "hear" that. Maybe we should find out the FACTS before making a cheating allegation.
InformedParent October 10, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Tax, I am in the same situation as you. We came from a private school with very small class sizes. However, my son is more challenged and excited about school. He has more homework, but complains less about doing it. Enthusiasm is contagious, and everyone I've met at Oxford has it. I will add I attended the lottery, it was random. I have to say, I don't think OPA is organized enough to only "pull" high achieving students. There is no way for them to even know who is high achieving. I think once actual facts come out the allegations will be proved baseless.
concerned parent October 10, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Thanks, OC Parent.
OC Mom October 10, 2012 at 03:24 AM
Even more interesting was the fact that several of the speakers who spoke about what a great experience their children were having at SCHS or SJHHS neglected to disclose that they are also running for the School Board with the full support of the teachers' union. I saw their politcal ads on The Orange Juice Blog that was linked to this article. The dirty campaign tactics are back. I'm saddened that opposing candidates can make signs that state other candidate's positions which may or may not be their positions on issues. Seems very offensive to me. Why not just state your own positions on your own signs? Why would you be so offensive? Oh, that's right the union feels threatened and somehow has been able to convince a majority of parents that less education is more.They use scare tactics, deception and any means necessary to accomplish their goals.
parent of two October 10, 2012 at 05:28 AM
Read the book The Life and Death of the Great American Public School by Diane Ravitch...
Capo Parent October 10, 2012 at 05:31 AM
CPToo Hypocrisy is something you breath, eat and sleep with. Where's a copy of the letter sent by Farley to OPA per Penny's report. If the claims made were not anonymous I look forward to learning who the accusers are and what facts and information they have. Since you appear to be in the "know," please tell us what parents and/or teachers at OPA sent letters or written communications to CUSD regarding cheating by OPA on the STAR testing. I assume there are such written communications given your claim they were not by phonel or anonymous. Time for you to put up or stew in the BS you like to create. By the way, what documents have Sue and/or Ellen leaked? I assume you have details given the tenor and tone of your accusation, or is this just another exercise in BS by you.
Capo Parent October 10, 2012 at 05:45 AM
CPToo Don't be a simpleton. You well know that while documents sent to the board or the superintendent may be considered public records, that doesn't mean that are subject to public review. [Funny how the letter from OPA's attorney to CUSD was released, but not Farley's letter to OPA.] At this point the allegations are considered anonymous and verbal because none of the accusers have been ID (that means they're anonymous) and no writings have been produced setting forth the accusations (that implies they're verbal). Since you seem to have an in with the union crowd how about clearing up matters by providing the ID of the accusers and copies of any documents outlining the accusations made.
Capo Parent Too October 10, 2012 at 05:53 AM
Too bad you aren't consistent with your innocent until proven guilty attitude with other things concerning the District. I truly hope this turns out to be much to do about nothing.
OCMom October 10, 2012 at 05:55 AM
Tax, I agree with you...both of my children LOVE OPA. And I know how "random" the lottery is because I had two sons with their names in and only one was picked. The son who was picked in the lottery struggles a bit more in school, yet is thriving at OPA now because he is excited to be a part of something special that encourages his own unique learning style! The other son is a GATE student who scores 100% on his Star test in any school...he was not picked for OPA. Any accusation that OPA somehow takes only "smart" kids is baseless. My "smart" kid didn't even get in until well after school had already started. The fact is that these students are doing better in their new school environment for the reasons that you stated above - rigorous academics, holding our children to a higher academic standard, enthusiastic and committed teachers, and extremely high parent involvement! My kids have brought home more homework from OPA than they ever had anywhere else, yet even more amazing is that there is a lot less complaining about it! They are challenged by it, excited by it, and they enjoy it! I know that these claims of cheating are absolutely false, but that is probably more "adult drama and politics" anyway. Or perhaps some bitterness from parents who don't like OPA in the area. What matters to me is that these kids know how proud we all are of their incredible efforts! I hope that they wear their test scores with great pride!! Well done OPA students! You ROCK!
OCMom October 10, 2012 at 06:15 AM
KellyLanes accusations about Ms. Roche are outrageous...and quite sad too that someone would perpetuate them...and as for CP Too...there is a serious ax to grind here for some reason. It makes one wonder...perhaps some of these accusers' kids were not picked in the OPA lottery and it burns them up to see how successful OPA has become...hhhhmmmmm. Anyway, I digress...the students, teachers, leadership and parents work so hard and are so committed that it doesn't matter what accusations are thrown around...we aren't going anywhere.
Captain Geech October 10, 2012 at 06:52 AM
If you drive by any OPA school at 7pm you will always see teachers and admin there working while the public school folks are racing the kids and parents to the parking lot. Those OPA folks work so hard and that is why they are successful. So sad that people who work so hard are now being accused of cheating. I only hope that these teachers and staff use the negative comments to fuel them to do more for kids at OPA. Shame on all of you who try to bring them down for doing good things for kids!
OPA Believer October 10, 2012 at 02:54 PM
OPA Believer All the students at Oxford Preparatory Academy studied very hard for the STAR testing. This is a great accomplishment for all students, teachers and parents of OPA. I can tell you first hand that the program they offer is one that can produce scores like this. They are able to reach out to those students who don't learn the traditional way and teach to their learning style and strengths. OPA provides educational opportunities available to children. Way to go OPA!
randy October 10, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Jumping to the conclusion? No one wants to bring down any kids' schools. Are you accusing Dr. Farley for bringing that school down? Dr. Farley is the one has to be accountable for the whole thing for any schools including charters. He has to do his job for those schools.
randy October 10, 2012 at 03:33 PM
It wil be a morale test of CUSD administration to portray its true leadership to end the corruption if they knew any such wrongdoing at any schools from the government-wide testing. Don't mess with government is the main issue. Kudos to the leaders who have been taking corrective action to serve and protect children rather being sold out. I think Dr. Farley is one for the kids side and might be the one who will have to explain what accusation was. He knows his leadership job is not a joke even if the OPA or any other schools retain their attorney.
Tax October 10, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Before reading these comments, I had no idea that our education system was so dominated by politics. As a parent, I have not been involved in the public school system until now, so this is new to me. Putting all politics aside, it was a hard choice to pull our child out of a private school that my Wife and I loved. However, after a few short weeks, I strongly believe it was the right choice.
randy October 10, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Hi Penny, based on your article, as written above, says that Dr. Farley sent a letter to OPA. Is it known fact that OPA received the letter that CUSD is taking action seriously? I want to make sure that you can back up the fact that he DID send the letter.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) October 10, 2012 at 04:24 PM
I have asked for a copy of the letter. However, the OPA attorney's letter says Dr. Farley "informed" OPA of the allegations. I am trying to determine if that imparting of information came in another way besides a letter. It's a possibility, as some have suggested. I don't know. I am correcting the story to just say notified.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) October 10, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Make sure you all see the follow-up story: http://patch.com/A-y36J
randy October 10, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Also OCR's Martindale confirmed the story about action by CUSD officials concerning about misconduct that Sue Roche shrugged as if no cheating occurred because the kids didn't do wrongdoing themselves.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) October 11, 2012 at 01:11 AM
Another follow-up story based on newly acquired documents: http://patch.com/A-y5ND
OPA Parent October 11, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Yes OPA has this week off! Would you like to know why? Aside from the weekly teacher training that goes on every Friday, The administration is spending time this week meeting with and teaching the teachers OPA methods. Maybe that is why OPA does well; it invests a huge amount of time and effort in its staff. Next week our students are off because we are having parent conferences for three days. I think it is a much more efficient way to do teacher conferences instead of having 5-7 minimum days.
Proud OPA Parent of 3 October 11, 2012 at 04:13 AM
Devoting time to teaching how to take the test does not constitute cheating. It is call test PREPARATION. Are you suggesting that high school gratudates who take test prep courses for the SATs are cheaters? Or college graduates who take courses to prepare and sit for the Bar exam or the CPA exam are cheaters? Why wouldn't we prepare our students on the "how to's" of test taking? As for tailoring lesson plans to the tests, these tests are intended to evaluate student knowledge of the CA State Standards of Education. They test the standards. OPA teaches the standards. Ask any OPA administrator or teacher what their curriculum is and they will respond with "the state standards." OPA teaches the state standards, thus it is logical that students perform well (NOT cheat) on the STAR test because it is a test of those standards which they have been taught.
a parent October 16, 2012 at 01:09 AM
You must not be working if you are driving by the school at 7:00. I would hope teachers are home with their families by that time. I am a public school teacher who works 7:45-5:30 with a 35 minute lunch. Most nights I take work home to complete when my kids go to bed. Does that mean I am a lousy teacher?
Champion Parent October 17, 2012 at 08:11 AM
KellyLane - Families had to enter in the Lottery to enter OPA. At this point in time, the school is full. If a parent wishes to enroll their student next year, they will highly likely be asked to enter through Independent Study. There is a waiting list that is why they are asked if they wish to join I.S. So regardless if they want to join Independent Study or not that is the best chance from them to attend OPA.
orangeman October 18, 2012 at 10:19 PM
From reading about Independent Study on the OPA Web site, it would seem that the IS program provides a way to partially subvert the lottery process. Students/Parents must submit an application for IS and be accepted by OPA staff. Spots may open during the school year or the following year, and IS students get first priority over the regular lottery waiting list.
Proud OPA Parent of 3 October 18, 2012 at 10:25 PM
In OPAs first year only (2011-2012 school year), IS students got priortity placement in the 2012-2013 school year. The charter was changed and IS students NO LONGER get priority placement. I have three IS students because we did not get permanent placement via the lottery. Presuming our wait list numbers do not come up this year which I don't expect them to because the wait list is so long, we will continue in IS next year, and we will have to REENTER the lottery next year in another attemp to get permanent placement. So, there is no first priority for IS students.
Frank October 22, 2012 at 07:09 PM
OPA has a track record for cheating at there other locations. Why would that not be any different at the MV school? CUSD must have enough evidence to prove OPA violated API scoring guidelines or they would not waste their time? The arogance of naive MV parents that this cheating couldn't be true is overwhelming? The MV parents worked hard to push a charter school into Barcelona and now CUSD will probably take the school back once the investigation is concluded. The conservative parents should of left well enough alone?
Tyra October 22, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Is there proof of this supposed "track record of cheating" at their other locations? How is standing up for our school being arrogant or naive? We obviously believe in this school or our children would not be here. Quite honestly, I am sick of the name calling and the bashing of OPA, it's parents and it's teachers just because it has proven successful and may not be the right choice for some. The operative word here is CHOICE. Thank goodness I have a choice in where to send my children to school. If CUSD had any evidence of OPA cheating, would they not have produced it already? My guess is that this "investigation" is going to be dragged out as long as the district can drag it out in an effort to drain OPA's resources. I also want to remind you that CUSD is the one that pushed OPA into Barcelona. The district put us there! We certainly did not choose it. When I had kids I certainly never thought I would have to fight so hard for their education. While disheartening, frustrating, and sickening it is sometimes to have to deal with some of the nasty comments and resistance that I have seen and read about, I will continue to fight and stand up for what I believe in!
grandma October 25, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Maybe at the next "Star" testing CUSD Board members along with a parent should sit in each classroom during the testing to monitor the testing. Allegation of cheating has occurred at every district, whether the scores were low or high.


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