Testing Irregularities Alleged At Top Performing Oxford Prep Academy

(November 2)  One of the brightest stars in San Bernardino County’s academic constellation was Chino’s Oxford Preparatory Academy. For two years running, Oxford had the highest score of any school in the county on California’s Standard Testing And Reporting exams, in 2011 and 2012. Known by the acronym STAR, the tests provide an academic performance rating or index, known as API, for second through 11th graders in every class, and at every school and district in the state. The tests measure students’ progress toward achieving California’s state-adopted academic content standards in English–language arts, mathematics, science, and history/social science. The results are used for student and school accountability purposes.
Oxford, a charter school that offers kindergarten through eighth grade classes, is sponsored by the Chino Valley Unified School District. It had an Academic Performance Index (API) score of 958 in 2011 and improved to 972 last spring.
But all that has fallen under a cloud, as reports of teacher and administrator orchestrated cheating on the state tests have surfaced against the Oxford Preparatory Academy school in Mission Viejo.
At the Mission Viejo campus, which functions under the aegis of the Capistrano Unified School District, students rung up an impressive 993 academic performance score on the 1,000-point maximum index during the first year the school was open.
Capistrano District officials became suspicious, however, and hired a private investigator, Nicole Miller, and an attorney, Dan Shinoff, to look into the possible inflation of the scores.
The district has drawn the curtain on the matter, which is still under investigation, but the Sentinel has learned that a target in the investigation is Jason Watts, the current chancellor of the Mission Viejo campus who was the principal of the Chino campus at the time of its impressive 2011 academic performance showing. Also under scrutiny is Oxford executive director Sue Roche, who oversees both the Chino and Mission Viejo campuses at a corporate level and has interaction with both instructors, referred to as professors, and students.
Efforts by the Sentinel to reach Roche were unsuccessful.
Allegations that surfaced in the course of Miller’s investigation were that Oxford professors who administered the tests erased incorrect student answers and filled in correct answers before the tests were scored, that the professors pointed to correct answers during testing, that before the tests were taken some of the parents of the school’s poorer performing students were contacted by school officials who asked those parents to have their children excused from taking the STAR test and that Roche engaged in “inappropriate coaching” of students prior to the test.
The Sentinel has learned that some of the students reported that professors had filled in some of the “bubbles” on the answer sheet for the multiple choice questions on the test and some parents indicated they were pressured by school officials to have their children excused from the testing.
The district spurned an offer by Oxford officials to engage with the Miller in carrying out the investigation.
Capistrano district superintendent Joe Farley was unwilling to discuss the investigation or what action the district is contemplating.
Oxford hired its own attorney, Hollis Peterson, to carry out an inquiry into the matter. Peterson on October 24 delivered the results of what she said was “an impartial” investigation into the matter. “No credible evidence was found that testing procedures or test results at the Oxford Preparatory South Orange County Charter School were compromised during administration of the 2012 STAR test,” she stated.
In her report, Peterson said she interviewed Roche and Watts, as well as the Orange County charter campus’s former principal, six former teachers, ten current teachers and eight parents.
Peterson wrote in the report, “There is no credible evidence that the school had a practice of targeting low performing students and then encouraging or pressuring their parents to opt their children out of the STAR testing. Only one parent reported feeling being pressured by a teacher to opt her child out of testing.”
Peterson further reported, “There is no evidence that OPA teachers were walking around during STAR testing and pointing to correct answers on the test.”
And Peterson stated in the report, “There is no evidence that OPA staff members erased incorrect student answers and filled in correct answers on the STAR test.”
In her conclusion to the report, Peterson wrote, “It is this investigator’s opinion that  the numerous and varied teaching strategies, test preparation techniques used at OPA throughout the year, as well as the staff’s heavy focus on teaching standards have yielded atypical results.”
The Capistrano District has not concluded its investigation and did not provide Peterson with access to the witnesses Miller and Shinoff have interviewed.
The Chino Unified School District said it was not yet launching an inquiry into the matter but would await the Capistrano District’s determination before deciding on whether an investigation into the Chino campus of the charter academy’s teaching or test administering activities is in order.

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