Natasha Chen, WREG, Reporting
MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Federal authorities said that for 15 years, some teachers in Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas have been paying others to take certification tests for them.
Fifty-eight-year-old Clarence Mumford, who used to be an assistant principal at Humes Middle School and a guidance counselor at Hillcrest High School in Memphis, is named in a 45-count indictment charging him with wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States and document fraud.
Mumford was arrested Monday night at his Memphis home.
The teachers paid $1,500-$3,000 per test.
The test-takers are said to be a mix of teachers and non-teachers. The indictment lists at least four test-takers who were either current or former Memphis City Schools employees.
The indictment also claims Mumford had a machine that would create fake IDs, using the personal information of the teacher or aspiring teacher, with the photo of one of the test-takers. That’s how the test-takers gained admission to examination sites in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Investigators say more than 50 people were involved in the scheme.
Edward L. Stanton, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee said the standardized tests were called PRAXIS, administered by the Educational Testing Service.
The following is a statement from Educational Testing Service: “ETS’s Office of Testing Integrity brought this case to the attention of local authorities and has worked cooperatively with them to bring the alleged perpetrators to justice. Test security and score validity are paramount to ETS, its clients, and test takers. We are continuing to cooperate with authorities and remain committed to providing fair and valid assessments. Due to the ongoing nature of this case we cannot provide further details.”
The PRAXIS test is required to become a teacher and teaching licenses.
Stanton said, “In an area that should be sacrosanct – the education of our children – Mumford has created an atmosphere in which teachers who are not only unqualified, but who have also gained credentials by fraud, stand in front of our children every day. Mumford’s conduct has done harm to the systems in which unqualified teachers have been able to teach, to the individual schools, to qualified individuals who could have obtained jobs filled by unqualified teachers, and, ultimately, to a generation of our schoolchildren.”
Mumford is currently out on bond from the Tunica County Jail, where he was charged with driving under the influence and indecent exposure.
He has been convicted in Shelby County of driving under the influence.
He was also accused in 2010 of fondling a female student. He retired from Memphis City Schools that same year and is now working at a school in Arkansas.
Authorities will now provide lists of those involved to local districts throughout the Mid-South. Those school districts can then investigate, and in cases where teachers are proven to have cheated on their tests, they may be terminated.
Keith Williams, president of the Memphis Education Association, said, “Certainly you would not want to stand before children, and profess to be a professional person and you have gained your position in an improper manner.”
Williams echoed Stanton’s statement that while more than 50 people were involved in this scheme, there are thousands of teachers throughout the Mid-South who acquired their certification the honest way.
“People who are trying to be teachers typically are very upright, conscientious, dedicated, learned people. And it is not something that this profession endorses, it is not something that we embrace; but I do have some trepidation with the idea that we have people who would use those means and measures to taint this profession,” Williams said.
Parents were shocked to hear the news Tuesday. Jarrett Martin respects the teachers in his children’s classroom. But he did wonder how widespread the problem is.
“I think it’s a shame. You know, we do a have a couple of teachers in our family, and to think about somebody trying to get ahead the honest way. But then you got others doing this the wrong way. It’s just bad,” Martin said.