Mississippi seeks to revoke teacher's license as part of Clarksdale cheating investigation

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JACKSON, Mississippi — The Mississippi Department of Education is seeking to revoke the license of a Clarksdale teacher it accuses of cheating on state tests given to students two years ago.

State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said the department filed an administrative complaint Thursday against Francis Smith-Kemp.

Smith-Kemp is teaching this year at Oakhurst Intermediate School in Clarksdale, but she was teaching at the city's Heidelberg Elementary during the 2012-13 year, when the department says she coached students during tests and altered or interfered with their answers. The department also accuses her of participating in, aiding, encouraging or failing to report cheating on the Mississippi Curriculum Test Second Edition, better known as the MCT2.

"We will not tolerate cheating by educators in Mississippi," Wright said during a news conference at the department's office in Jackson. "The real victims of this cheating are the students at Heidelberg. Depriving these children of an opportunity to learn and putting them behind academically is disgraceful."

A call to Smith-Kemp was not answered Thursday. A license revocation hearing is set for May 11 before a state commission in Jackson.

Clarksdale schools Superintendent Dennis Dupree said in a phone interview from his office Thursday that it's "premature" to say whether Smith-Kemp will be allowed to keep teaching before the hearing. Dupree said she will have to hire her own attorney.

"As a district, we still stand by what we said when it comes to student progress that was made," said Dupree, who has previously said he believes there was no cheating on state tests in the district with about 3,100 students.

The state Department of Education started investigating the possibility of cheating in the Clarksdale School District last May after The Clarion-Ledger reported claims that test results were falsified at Heidelberg Elementary. The department said in a statement in August that an investigation by testing security firm Caveon determined there was "reasonable cause" to believe employees had broken security rules on state standardized tests, improperly inflating test scores at the school.

Wright said Thursday that the investigation continues into possible cheating in Clarksdale schools. Wright said she didn't know how many students' tests might have been affected by possible cheating.

The license revocation hearing will begin as a public hearing but could go into closed session if officials anticipate discussing material that would identify students, Wright said. If the Licensure Commission revokes Smith-Kemp's teaching license, she could ask the state Board of Education to reinstate the credential. If the board doesn't do what she requests, she could appeal to chancery court in Hinds County, the seat of state government.

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Associated Press writer Jeff Amy contributed to this report.

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