Cheating allegations invalidate 2 schools' test scores

Fred Navarro, superintendent of the Lennox School District, said officials will discuss cheating allegations at Animo Leadership Charter High School at today's district board meeting. Animo is operated by Green Dot Public Schools and is overseen by Lennox.

Navarro said Green Dot chief executive Marco Petruzzi contacted him personally the day the allegations surfaced and assured him he would deal seriously with the matter. Lennox officials have allowed the charter organization to conduct its own inquiry, but district officials will decide whether to conduct a more extensive investigation of past test scores after hearing today's presentations to the board, Navarro said.

A science teacher is accused of changing the wrong answers on physics exams for possibly 148 of 604 students at the high school in Inglewood, ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 100 charters in the nation.

Green Dot officials have not revealed the identity of the teacher. However, Navarro made it clear he supported tough sanctions if the cheating allegations prove to be true.

"If there is credible evidence, this is a situation that merits dismissal from a teaching position, and the state may even revoke the certificated employee's credential," Navarro said.

State education officials have rejected the 2011 test scores from Animo Leadership and Short Avenue Elementary School, part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, after internal investigations found teachers cheating. The alleged improprieties were self-reported by Green Dot and LA Unified.

State documents show three teachers at Short Avenue are accused of changing answers, coaching students or both.

In the wake of the allegations at Short Avenue, John Deasy, superintendent of LA Unified, ordered an investigation of the school's previous test scores. In July, LA Unified's Board of Education voted to shut down several Crescendo charter schools in response to allegations that the schools' founder ordered principals and teachers to use actual test questions to prepare students for the 2010 state standardized tests.

"Students take tests independent and alone," Deasy told the LA Times recently. "We don't coach them and give them answers."

He added: "It's obviously wrong behavior, but it's more than that. ... It's not the behavior we want to model – ever."

The two schools cannot receive any special achievement honors from the state for two years because of the infraction and won't meet state and federal annual progress requirements, said Eric Zilbert of the state Department of Education.

The cheating allegations surfaced during the publication of this year's academic rankings and represent the state's first public disclosures of cheating on standardized tests. School testing has gained nationwide attention after news reports of widespread cheating by teachers, principals and administrators in the Atlanta Public Schools system.

Last year, Short Avenue's Academic Performance Index ranking was 848, well above the state target of 800. Animo Leadership would have scored an API near 800 this year if the allegations hadn't caused its results to be thrown out. Both schools serve a mix of low-income and minority students.

Since 2009, California has relied on local school districts to voluntarily report instances of cheating. State education department officials stopped collecting data on erasures and halted all field visits that ensured testing procedures were followed after its forensic team was hit with $105,000 in budget cuts. A request to restore the funds was rejected this year by the Department of Finance, said John Boivin, an administrator with the education department.

Story courtesy of our media partners at California Watch (A Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting)

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