MISSION VIEJO – An independently run Capistrano Unified school being investigated for possible misconduct during state standardized testing in the spring has been exonerated of wrongdoing, the school district has announced.
Oxford Preparatory Academy, a K-8 public charter school in Mission Viejo, was cleared following an independent, two-month investigation, the district said Wednesday – a tacit admission that Oxford did, in fact, earn a near-perfect Academic Performance Index score of 993 out of 1,000 in its first year of operation.
"Capistrano Unified is pleased with the exceptionally high API scores of CUSD students attending Oxford Preparatory Academy and other CUSD schools," district spokeswoman Beverly de Nicola said in a statement.
Oxford earned the highest API score of any of the district's 55 schools as well as the second-highest API score in Orange County. Only the similarly named Oxford Academy in Cypress – a middle and high school that admits by a competitive application process and has no relation to Oxford Prep – scored higher, with a 995 API score this year.
"We believed from the very beginning the allegations were false," said Sue Roche, Oxford Prep's co-founder and executive director. "It's just a shame we had to waste so many resources, time and energy defending our success. I feel so sad about that."
Capistrano Unified on Wednesday declined to release the report prepared by its private investigator, Nicole Miller of Dana Point-based T. Davis & Associates, arguing that the document was protected by attorney-client privilege.
But de Nicola confirmed the investigator "was unable to substantiate any of the claims."
Roche said Wednesday that Oxford had not seen the district's investigative report but was in talks with the district to obtain the full report. Oxford also completed an internal probe in October that concluded no wrongdoing.
Capistrano Unified has never released a list of the misconduct allegations it was investigating, but Oxford said it knew of at least four. Oxford vociferously denied all of the allegations:
•Teachers pressured the parents of low-performing students to not allow their children to take state tests.
•Teachers walked around the room during testing and pointed at the correct answers.
•Staff members erased incorrect answers and filled in correct answers.
•An administrator improperly and unethically coached staff before the tests.
Oxford's original campus in Chino earned an API score of 957 in its first year of operation, and built on that success with a 972 this year.
Oxford parent Gina Schumann of Mission Viejo said the secret to the school's success on state testing is an uncanny ability to get all students excited about taking the exams and doing well on them.
"One of my children used to have typical test anxiety," Schumann said. "This year, he scored over 100 points more than he did before (at a traditional school). Oxford made it so you had joy and felt you were doing something important."
District officials said they had an obligation to investigate Oxford's Mission Viejo campus after receiving "allegations of testing improprieties" when the Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, exams were administered in May.
Oxford operates on the theory of multiple intelligences, which suggests that children learn in at least eight ways, including through music and role-playing, but traditionally are taught only in two main ways: linguistics and mathematics/logic. The school also heavily emphasizes a college-going theme that permeates the campus.
"Our program ... really celebrates the gifts of all children, and I think that in itself really helps children succeed," Roche said. "It doesn't matter where the kids live, what socioeconomic class they're in. We have very bright children everywhere."
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