A recent spate of cheating has educators and administrators looking for answers, and the latest scandal involves a Westside elementary school that had shown steady progress over the last few years.
Short Avenue Elementary School in Del Rey had its 2010-11 Academic Performance Index (API) scores tossed out by state education authorities Sept. 5 after three teachers were implicated in testing irregularities. API scores measure the academic performance and growth of schools on a variety of academic measures.
Los Angeles Unified School District officials conducted an internal investigation after the cheating was discovered and notified the state education department.
Local educators and education advocates condemned what happened at Short Avenue.
“Cheating is unacceptable. Teachers making that decision should not be in the classroom in Del Rey or anywhere,” said Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Eric DeSobe.
Ira Koslow, a LAUSD teacher who is also member of the Venice Neighborhood Council, echoed DeSobe’s condemnation.
“Cheating is wrong. There’s no question about that,” said Koslow. “But look at any profession and you’ll find a few cheaters.”
Two third grade teachers and one second grade educator were named in the internal probe.
The report states that a student admitted that she had not been able to perform exercises on her mathematics test but correct answers appeared in her test booklet.
According to the report, “In the principal’s office, she was unable to perform a basic addition and subtraction problem. Most students were advised by the teacher as to which questions were incorrect, and then the teacher instructed students to return to their seat to correct their answers.”
To date, the district has not announced any official sanctions for the three teachers.
“How I handle known cheating scandals where there is an adult irregularity is termination,” LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy told The Argonaut.
United Teachers Los Angeles declined to comment on the conduct of the Short Avenue teachers, as the union represents teachers.
Koslow reiterated that he does not condone cheating, but believes that due to LAUSD’s and other schools districts’ reliance on test scores to grade teachers, some might succumb to unethical behavior.
“The tests are used to grade the school, and that puts pressure on the teacher,” he noted.
DeSobe said the focus should be on the conduct of the educators. “This situation is about teachers cheating and making decisions that harmed children. Discussions about pedagogical strategies should be left for another time,” he asserted.
Over the last few years, Short Avenue surpassed the state’s target API score for proficiency, which is 800. In 2009 and 2010, the school posted scores of 859 and 848, respectively.
Cheating has also occurred at some charter schools. In March, the LAUSD board closed six charter schools run by Cresendo Charter after it was discovered that the organization’s founder, John Allen, allegedly ordered principals and teachers to prepare students for last year’s tests using the actual test questions.
Since last year, the Del Rey council has awarded a portion of its $40,000 budget to local schools as part of its mandate to give funds to what the local board feels are deserving projects. Short Avenue has been the recipient of the council’s largess, and DeSobe said the council will use the same criteria for awarding funds that it has in the past.
“The board will continue to vet all issues based on the merits presented to our committees and the board,” the neighborhood council president said.
Board member Gerry Crouse said the news of Short Avenue teachers caught cheating strengthened his resolve to continue to vote not to award schools any of the local council’s budget. “We continue to pour money into the schools and then we hear about what happened at Short Avenue,” Crouse said.
The board member also routinely voted against allocating money to schools with the prior neighborhood board. “I’ve been consistent with my beliefs,” he said.
Deasy said he is pleased with the progress of the district’s schools overall, including those on the Westside. More than 60 schools had a jump of more than 50 points on their API scores in 2011, according to LAUSD’s website.
“(Short Avenue) is an individual situation,” he said. “It’s always disappointing when an adult does something that is inappropriate.”
LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents Del Rey, could not be reached for comment.