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Mississippi Ed. Officials Investigating Cheating Allegations in Clarksdale District

Cheating allegations in a Clarksdale, Miss., elementary school have drawn the scrutiny of state education officials, who have hired a national firm to investigate whether staff members may have given answers to students taking state assessments in 2013.

Utah-based Caveon Test Security is looking into allegations—which surfaced in reports last month by the Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Miss.—that cheating occurred at Clarksdale's Heidelberg Elementary School.

The 3,100-student Clarksdale school system in the heart of the Mississippi Delta has been in the spotlight over the last several months. It snagged a $10 million Race to the Top grant from the U.S. Department of Education last fall, one of just five school districts to do so.  And the district's superintendent, Dennis J. Dupree Sr., was one of 16 local education leaders selected and profiled in Education Week's 2014 Leaders to Learn From special report earlier.

Mr. Dupree said he was not at liberty to speak about the situation because of the ongoing investigation, but in earlier interviews with the Clarion-Ledger, he denied that any cheating had gone on at Heidelberg. The newspaper reported in mid-May that test data it had obtained showed that high-scoring students at Heidelberg struggled with basic reading and math when they entered 5th grade at another school in the district less than six months later.

Patrice Guilfoyle, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Education, said the investigation is ongoing and is likely to take several more weeks. Beside the allegations about cheating, Caveon investigators will also be looking into how the Clarion-Ledger obtained the student-level data that identifies individual students. The newspaper did not publish the names or results for students in its reports.

"Once the investigation is complete, we will fully release the findings," Ms. Guilfoyle said.

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