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Mississippi Says Principal Participated in Cheating on State Tests

A Mississippi elementary school principal is facing formal complaints that she participated in cheating on state standardized tests at her school in 2013.

The state department of education leveled the allegations against Lowanda Tyler-Jones, principal of Heidelberg Elementary School in the Clarksdale school district, on Wednesday. The department alleges that Tyler-Jones broke state law by knowingly and willfully cheating on state assessments and it charged that she "participated in, directed, aided, counseled, assisted in, encouraged or failed to report" cheating on standardized tests.

Tyler-Jones had previously denied the allegations, the Associated Press reports. Two teachers have also been found to have violated state law by participating in cheating at the school.

Last July, one of the teachers, Frances Smith-Kemp, admitted to breaking state law and agreed to surrender her teaching license for at least two years. The state handed down a five-year teacher license suspension on another teacher, Tetra Winters, in November after it determined that she violated state law by "knowingly and willfully cheating on state assessments during the 2012-13 school year at Heidelberg Elementary School."

The state flagged the school's test scores after Tyler-Jones became principal of the school in 2012. In one semester the school jumped from a D to a B grade in the school-rating system. The following year, 2013, the school's grade went from a B to an A, according to the Associated Press.

The district's superintendent, Dennis Dupree, conducted an investigation into the remarkable increase in the school's test scores, but concluded that he found nothing wrong, the news agency reported. Dupree has also forcefully defended the school and district against cheating allegations.

In 2013, the district received a $10 million Race to the Top grant from the U.S. Department of Education, and Dupree received national recognition for improvements in the district during his tenure. In 2014, Dupree was selected as one of 16 educators profiled in Education Week's Leaders to Learn From, which highlights the work of innovative school district leaders across the country.

The local paper, the Clarion-Ledger followed up on the superintendent's investigation, finding that test results in the school had been falsified. That prompted the state to act. It hired Utah-based Caveon Test Security to look into the allegations.

Caveon's report in August 2014 found that  "reasonable cause existed to believe that Clarksdale Municipal School District (CMSD) employees engaged in or were aware of potential violations of Mississippi testing regulations," according to the state education agency. 

The state is seeking to revoke Tyler-Jones' administrator license. She is expected to appear before the state's teacher-licensure commission on Jan. 18.

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