L.A. charter school group gets hall pass after cheating scandal

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A group of charter schools in Los Angeles is about to have its license renewed, despite findings by the Los Angeles Board of Education that it promoted cheating on the standardized state exam by which schools’ performance is measured.

A positive staff recommendation was issued for the Crescendo charter schools, a group of six schools south of downtown L.A., which was found to have shown students the questions and answers of the actual state test prior to taking it. The school’s founder and chief executive, John Allen, is said to have authorized and orchestrated the scandal.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the school’s gains on test results were 10 times what other schools would be considered strong results.

Allen ordered principals at the schools to break the seals on the tests and allow students to practice with the actual test questions. Principals at all six schools complied with the order, although during the subsequent investigation, some of the principals claimed they asked Allen if it was OK to do so.

Several teachers contacted the district school board to report the breach, while also expressing concern of retaliation from Crescendo executives.

When confronted by the district about his actions, Allen denied any wrongdoing, and when later questioned by the school’s board of directors, he initially denied it as well.

“I understand the pressure regarding test results,” said Joan Herman, director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards & Student Testing at UCLA. “But to advise your entire enterprise to cheat, that would be a serious, serious ethical breach.”

Allen received a six-month unpaid suspension and was demoted to director of facilities for the schools. The principals were each suspended for 10 days.

The L.A. Unified School District threatened to revoke the schools’ charters immediately, but backed down when the group’s board promised to undertake a series of measures including staff reorganization and ethics training, and additional review of board governance, conflicts of interest and the public records and open meetings act.

Los Angeles Times

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