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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Robert M. Hughes Academy Charter Public School

To:Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:December 14, 2009

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I am writing to update the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education ("Board") regarding the allegations of widespread cheating on the 2009 MCAS apparently instigated by staff of the Robert M. Hughes Academy Charter Public School ("RMH"). I am also writing to provide notice of my intention to request that the Board take action on this matter at its January 2010 meeting.

History of RMH Charter

RMH is a Commonwealth charter school located in Springfield, MA. RMH opened in 1999 and is chartered to serve grades K-8 with a maximum enrollment of 180. In 2008-2009, RMH served 184 students in grades K-8.

The school received its first charter renewal in February 2004. The renewal contained five conditions: one addressed academic concerns and four addressed issues relating to the governance and financial management of the school. The conditions relating to governance required certain RMH board members to request an opinion from the State Ethics Commission regarding the application of the conflict of interest law and the financial disclosure law; required the RMH board to hire a consultant to advise it on issues relating to board practice and governance; required the RMH board to comply with and/or revise the school's bylaws regarding the terms of its members; and required the RMH board to cooperate with the Department and the Office of the State Auditor to fully address questions and issues raised by the Department.

In January 2009, the Board voted to renew RMH's charter for a five-year period. The renewal was explicitly conditioned on the following:

  1. By December 2010, Robert M. Hughes Academy Charter Public School shall demonstrate that it is an academic success by:

    1. providing evidence that, by 2010, the school has met academic growth targets in English language arts and mathematics, as established by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or

    2. having achieved Adequate Yearly Progress in the aggregate and for all statistically significant subgroups in English language arts and mathematics in 2009 and 2010.

  2. The Robert M. Hughes Academy Charter Public School Board of Trustees shall comply with the term limits and maintain the minimum number of board members, as defined in the school's approved bylaws.

  3. By September 2009, the Robert M. Hughes Academy Charter Public School Board of Trustees shall have identified, recruited, and received approval from the Commissioner for new members with educational and financial expertise.

Summary

The Department has identified grave concerns in connection with the first condition on required academic progress. Subsequent to the release of the 2009 MCAS results, the Department noted from a preliminary review of RMH's 2009 MCAS results that they reflected improbably high levels of improvement. Based upon this preliminary review, the Department suppressed RMH's 2009 MCAS results and began an investigation. Based on its investigation into the administration of the 2009 MCAS tests at RMH, the Department permanently invalidated all 2009 MCAS scores for the school.

Recommendation

Based on the information obtained to date, it is my intention to request that the Board, at its January 2010 meeting, vote its intent to revoke RMH's charter based on evidence that during the administration of the 2009 MCAS tests there was pervasive, systemic cheating at the behest of adults at RMH. Accordingly, pursuant to 603 CMR 1.13(e), the Board may vote to provide notice of intent to revoke RMH's charter based upon evidence of fraud or gross mismanagement on behalf of the school. Similarly, pursuant to 603 CMR 1.13(g), the Board may vote to provide notice of intent to revoke RMH's charter for the additional and independent reason that because the school's 2009 MCAS results have been permanently invalidated, the school cannot fulfill the academic condition imposed on RMH by the Board in January 2009.

We expect a charter school that has been in operation for ten years to have a stable and competent governance structure supporting a school with high standards and high academic performance. Given the history of governance problems at the school during its ten years of operation, I do not have confidence that the school can recover from this situation.

Because of the magnitude of this decision, I am recommending that this matter be put on the Board's agenda in January 2010 for additional discussion and a vote. RMH's board of trustees will be invited to present information to you at that time, and I expect that we will have more information to share with you regarding the ongoing investigation. I have kept Springfield Superintendent Alan Ingram apprised of this situation, and if the Board accepts my recommendation for revocation, he and his staff are prepared to assist students and families with an orderly transition to new school assignments in the Springfield Public Schools for the fall of 2010.

If you have any questions or require additional information, please contact Jeff Wulfson, Associate Commissioner, at 781-338-6500; or Mary Street, Director of Charter Schools, at 781-338-3200; or me.



Last Updated: December 14, 2009
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