OPI report: No evidence to support prison cheating

By: - December 7, 2022 10:39 am

A student taking a test (Photo via Wikimedia Commons | CC-BY-SA 1.0).

An investigation into allegations a test administrator helped inmates cheat on a high school equivalency exam at the Shelby prison found “no confirming evidence” to support the claims, according to records from the Office of Public Instruction.

“The reporting individual was unable to provide supporting evidence or additional witnesses to validate his claim,” the investigation report said.

However, testing has not resumed at the institution for a separate reason, according to CoreCivic, a private company that runs the state prison in Shelby.

The prison, called the Crossroads Correctional Center, houses 757 male inmates, according to a Department of Corrections data dashboard.

The testing program, HiSET, allows adults without a high school diploma to earn the equivalent of a high school degree. OPI earlier provided records that said testing had been suspended at the prison as of April.

Last week, CoreCivic director of public affairs Ryan Gustin said the Shelby prison remains a HiSET testing site. However, he said a separate technology glitch unrelated to the allegation means testing has not resumed at the facility.

“All of the IT teams are aware of this matter and are quickly working to alleviate that challenge,” Gustin said.

The issue stems from a change in test provider and ensuing technology “hiccups,” he said. Gustin said testing at the Crossroads location takes place using computers, and in the case of a provider change, “you have to get one hand to shake the other hand.”

“We don’t have the option contractually to offer a paper exam,” he said.

The Montana Department of Corrections said other “DOC-run facilities” have not had testing difficulties — and Gustin said other locations are able to use paper testing, unlike at Crossroads.

The new testing provider and CoreCivic are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible, Gustin said, and it’s in their interest to do so.

The original cheating allegation came from a previous Crossroads inmate who said staff were sharing exam questions with inmates before testing and assisting inmates during the HiSET tests. As a result, Montana OPI suspended all HiSET testing at Crossroads and requested an investigation. 

The September investigation report found no evidence of cheating. It said investigators reviewed answer sheets and test reports but could not substantiate the claims.

A Crossroads principal who retired in August agreed she had shared “test material” with test takers, but she said she had shared “released exam questions” and The Official Guide to HiSET Exam, according to the investigation report. It said a new principal was unaware of any previous infractions.

Investigators requested additional information from the inmate who made the allegations, but the report said he admitted his accusation was “based on his assumptions.” He also argued that because he had moved to a prerelease center, he was “not comfortable to freely share information,” the report said.

The investigation report also said the inmate who made the accusations may have had a different reason for bringing forward a complaint: “It is likely that this unfounded allegation could have arisen from a salary dispute between this individual and Crossroads Correction Center over tutoring hours.”

The report did not elaborate on the salary dispute.

A September letter from a senior national HiSET director provided by OPI with the investigation report and by CoreCivic said test results from the site are sound: “Tests were not compromised and HISET scores obtained by individuals testing here are valid.”

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.