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OPA Investigator Finds No Basis for Cheating Allegations

A charter school's independent review found "no credible evidence" for claims which came from two sources, one of them anonymous.

After checking into allegations of cheating on standardized testing, a local charter school announced Wednesday night that its hands are clean.

Oxford Preparatory Academy, the controversial charter school that posted the county’s second highest academic score in its first year, came under fire from unknown sources who complained to the Capistrano Unified School District earlier this month that .

However, “[n]o credible evidence” was found that the testing was compromised, according to an executive summary written by the third-party investigator OPA hired to look into the allegations.

A copy of the summary can be found in a PDF file above.

After the district received the complaints, a left-leaning blog published the accusations and deemed them true without naming its sources.

An OPA parent spoke out at Wednesday’s school board meeting, saying he was very disappointed that the allegations would get leaked in such away and right in the middle of an election.

“It smacks of the worst pandering, political dirty tricks,” said Robert Reidel.

Turns out, Capo Unified officials never named the sources either, according to OPA’s report.

OPA and CUSD officials clashed over which agency should have taken the lead on the investigation. CUSD is also conducting an investigation of its own.

Several times in OPA’s report, Hollis Peterson, the San Diego attorney OPA hired, said she tried to get the district to join forces, but her requests were rejected.

CUSD did reveal that the accusations came from only two sources, and one of those was anonymous, according to the executive summary.

With much prodding, the district’s hired attorney provided the written accusations on Oct. 16. They are:

  • Parents of lower performing students were encouraged by OPA staff to waive their children from taking the STAR test
  • OPA teachers were walking around during the STAR testing and pointing to correct answers on the test
  • Parents observed OPA staff erasing testing marks and filling in the correct answers on the STAR test

A fourth accusation, that OPA Executive Director Sue Roche herself inappropriately coached students during the test, was communicated verbally.

In each area, Peterson reported she could find no evidence to substantiate the claims.

The investigation included interviews with 28 parents, teachers and staff members, including every current and former  OPA teacher involved in the May exams.

Seven students opted out of all STAR testing, while an eighth did not take the math, according to the report. Peterson talked to the parents, and only one indicated there may have been pressure on her child to skip the test.

That student, according to the report, was doing poorly and math and had to be put back a grade level. There was some confusion as to what grade level the student would test.

That parent left the school, having a unhappy experience, the report said.

The other parents were adamant that the accusations were false, according to the report. In fact, they felt pressure to have their children take the test.

One parent, whom Peterson only briefly interviewed, said the district’s investigator had already visited her at her home, and mentioned that she may be “subpoenaed” in the future, according to the report. That parent was distressed, and the conversation was cut short.

Erica Cox October 25, 2012 at 01:50 PM
Penny - I believe the last charge was a verbal one made by Farley...and later excluded from the final written accusations, see page 3 Regardless...shifty CUSD is up to it's eyeballs in mud now. Only 8 students in the whole school did not take the STAR test and there are no witnesses to any other anonymous claim. Wonder what special interest group with a gripe against charters could have made such a claim...three days before the API results?
Penny Arévalo (Editor) October 25, 2012 at 02:10 PM
You're right, but it was investigated and had its own little section,so I wanted to include it. I'll make a notation that that charge was communicated verbally, not in writing. Thanks.
concerned parent October 25, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Reading the entire report is enlightening. What damning evidence of a witch hunt against this school.
Proud Mom October 25, 2012 at 04:32 PM
The witch hunters need to stop harassing OPA. There are many bitter OPA haters who need to move on with their lives. Focus on their own children. Focus on their own child's education, because there is a lot to be concerned about in CUSD. Unfortunately, most OPA parents knew that there were going to be false accusations, even before the test results were out. How could a first year opened school do so well on the STAR? Not possible, especially since the teachers aren't part of the union. Well, it could happen, and it did!! The second highest in Orange County, with a 993 (behind a high school who has a written entrance exam). As has been stated many times throughout the Patch, there are many reasons why this program works for their students. However, more important than the test results, is the fact that the students are having fun, have a sense of pride in themselves, and feel a part of a loving community of teachers, staff, and parents. WAY TO GO OPA!!!
4GreatSchools October 25, 2012 at 04:48 PM
I have also read the PDF file and I'm very concerned that taxpayer money has been used to investigate cheating allegations from only two sources, one of them anonymous. I hear others accuse high performing schools of cheating all the time, but I file them in the category of "sour grapes" and leave it at that. How much money was spent on these third party investigations that would have been better spent in the CUSD classrooms?
Ed Gruberman October 25, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Just another example of fiscal irresponsibility by this board. For a district that is operating under a budget deficit, they sure were quick to spend money on a witch hunt. The real losers in all of this are the children. The district is spending money they do not have and OPA is forced to spend money on fighting these ridiculous accusations instead of further enriching their program. I hope this goes higher and the anonymous accuser is forced to be revealed.
Proud Mom October 25, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Parents of CUSD should be outraged because 4GreatSchools is correct. The taxpayer's money, which could be spent on the CUSD students, just got thrown out the window, because of a couple of frivolous accusations. One of the sources could possibly be someone working for the district. If the source becomes public knowledge, the general public may, or should I say, may not be surprised. Stay tuned ...
Capo Parent October 25, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Given what has transpired over the last two years, did anyone expect Farley and CUSD, who are controlled by the teachers union, to do something different, like the right thing? Sadly, this isn't over. Remember, CUSD is conducting its own "independent investigation."
Capo Parent October 25, 2012 at 10:13 PM
Robert Reidel If you read this you may want to check. It appears Chris Korpi had a bogus domain/website in your name.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) October 25, 2012 at 10:19 PM
I believe so, too, so that makes eight, if I'm counting correctly. I did see his URL at the OJ Blog, but the name was spelled wrong, so it didn't go anywhere. And quite frankly, I didn't know who he was! He seems to be a parent (and an OPA one at that), but not a well known public figure.
fact checker October 25, 2012 at 10:24 PM
What would you have done? Ignore the accusations? Would you ignore them if they were made against any other school?
Sarah October 26, 2012 at 02:22 AM
I wouldn't believe anything that OPA's 'independent investigator' "found", since she is their own attorney, just as much as Capo's investigation won't be believable. They will both 'find' whatever supports the position they want to present. Thankful to be in SVUSD!
Neutral OPA October 26, 2012 at 03:30 PM
I may be naive, but I'm not sure either OPA or CUSD is acting with malice. Certainly there is mistrust. I agree that the allegations had to be investigated - you can't ignore 1-2 parents who claim they have direct knowledge of cheating. I also agree that under Ca law governing charter schools, CUSD had to conduct it's own investigation and that OPA's investigation isn't truly independent when it is conducted by the law firm hired by OPA to both investigate and defend against the charges. That said, I know the Procopio firm. They are a well established and respected firm that would not lie, mislead or risk their reputation simply to appease OPA. The bottom line is that I'm confident problems, if any, were not systemic. At most, you have 2 former OPA parents who allege impropriety. 1 of them - Parent 5 - alleges that she was pressured, but admits that she wanted to have her child opt out of testing anyway. The other simply refused to talk to the investigator so we don't know what this person will say. Since the investigation covered all administrators/teachers (except 1) and all opt-out parents (except 1), it's possible others may come forward. However, I don't know what kind of position these folks would be in who could witness cheating. It'll be interesting to see CUSD's results, but I can't imagine they'd find systemic cheating and probably no cheating based on credible unrefutable evidence. At worst, it's the word of 2 versus all of OPA.
Laura L October 26, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Maybe now we can move on, and focus our time and resources on our kids? Wouldn't that be nice!
The Lone Wolf October 26, 2012 at 03:58 PM
The fact that the attorney/investigator for the district intimidated a parent is reprehensible. This is so on par with how this district operates that it is a sad day for any parent or student involved in this district whether OPA or not. I have personal experience on how this intimidation works and any teacher that thinks that this will not be turned around on them is living in a dream world. This district has NO ethics and no professionalism and treats its employees and its parents/students anyway that suits them in the moment. Scary stuff from this district and it won't end any time soon as they have slithered around in the mud for so long they don't know how to stand up and walk appropriately (and that is its upper administration, specifically Farley and its Board of Trustees).
Robert Reidel October 27, 2012 at 07:26 PM
At question is the judgment and handling of the allegations by CUSD. Based on a single complant (the completely anonymous one doesn't count) from over a thousand OPA parents, CUSD came down on OPA in what certainly appears to be a hostile and heavy-handed manner, by stating they can revoke OPA's charter for misconduct. If a single complaint that is weak, tenuous and likely unprovable is all it takes for CUSD to initiate an investigation, let's see them hold themselves to that same high bar. So this investigation is leaked to the public, CUSD is hostile and uncooperative with OPA with regards to the allegations, OPA is forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars on the investigation it should be spending on the students, mud is thrown on OPAs reputation and staff, CUSD had a higher non-participation on the STAR test by both percentage and numbers (1,050 CUSD students!) and still CUSD stonewalls. Who gains, and at whose expense? An investigation is warranted here, but it's not one on OPA!
Erica Cox October 27, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Amen Robert!
Erika Schulte October 28, 2012 at 01:25 AM
I think it is also important to note that the 1 teacher who was involved in administering the test and refused to speak to the investigator **is a CUSD teacher** and NOT an Oxford employee. Very telling, in my opinion!
Capo Parent October 28, 2012 at 04:07 AM
FF It's one thing to investigate when credible charges are made. Per CUSD, only two persons made claims of cheating, one made the charges anonymously, which means the charges are worthless. As for the other person, CUSD failed to ID the person so the independent investigator could interview the person. Gotta love the hide the ball tactics of CUSD. Sarah You don't know what you're talking about. What OPA did in hiring an independent investigator is SOP. Since you claim to be in SVUSD, why are you commenting on a CUSD story. Remember, CUSD has better test scores than SVUSD. :)
Capo Parent October 28, 2012 at 04:11 AM
Erika Is this CUSD teacher an alleged cheater?
Robert Reidel October 28, 2012 at 06:15 AM
Yes, I heard about that. If they'd set it up to go somewhere, it didn't by the time I tried it, and it's not currently. I've found that if some can't get the votes on their merits of the issue, they'll try tricking some into giving them the votes they want. A sad state of affairs.

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