District 60: Cesar Chavez Students Given Unfair Advantage = Cheating

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Some people think that the only way students can prove that they have learned something is to be able to regurgitate it immediately when prompted to. Others think kids prove they've learned something by simply coming to the correct answer no matter how long it takes.

In Colorado, the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) exam is administered as a timed test. Each student is given 60 minutes to complete a section, whether it is Reading, Writing, Math, or Science. That is unless they receive what is called an accommodation. A non-standard accommodation can be used if:

1. The student has been using the accommodation during instruction and assessment for at least three months prior to the administration of the assessment.

2. The use of the accommodation in instruction is documented in the student's IEP and/or 504, and

3. The educational team must, in evaluating the accommodation being requested, ensure that it is not giving the student an additional advantage in responding to the items, but allowing the student access to the assessment.

4. The educational team must consider the student's needs for a nonstandard accommodation on an individual basis. These accommodations are specialized and will not be considered based on a district or disability but rather on the needs of the individual student.

5. All applications for nonstandard accommodations must be submitted annually, and no later than December 15th.

6. All questions on the request form must be answered in order for the application to be considered.

7. A copy of the student's IEP or 504 plan will expedite the application.

A copy of the Application can be found by clicking the link below.

One kind of accommodation student's can use, if they qualify, is extra time which extends the time limit up to one and a half times the normal amount. For a 60 minute test, the extra time accommodation allows for the test taker to use up to 90 minutes to finish.

Another type is called a scribe; this is where someone will fill in the answers as directed by the test taker because they are unable to do it themselves.

According to data provided by District 60, an excessive number of students received the extra time and scribe accommodations. One example can be found during the 2008 CSAP exam; 121 fourth grade students at Cesar Chavez Academy took the Reading portion of the CSAP. Six of them were provided a scribe accommodation, another 115 were given an extra time accommodation. That's 100 percent of the test takers getting an accommodation of some sort, while only 10.5 percent of the rest of the students in the state received the same accommodations. It would also mean, all 121 children would have had to qualify with the above application, something District 60 officials say is nearly impossible.

"Normally, when you look at state wide, we have anywhere from four to seven percent of the students who receive these accommodations," says Dr. Robert Vise, Executive Director of Assessment and Technology for District 60. Vise goes on to say, Cesar Chavez Academy's extremely high numbers of kids with an accommodation just don't make sense. The schools founder, however, says the numbers are accurate.

"There is this misperception that accommodations are for "special needs." Well all of our kids have some kind of needs. Our kids are low income, they're kids who've struggled, who came from environments where many of them couldn't read, where many of them were beginning to read," says Dr. Lawrence Hernandez, founder of Cesar Chavez Academy. But District 60 isn't buying what Hernandez is selling. Vise says, income, race, environmental factors aren't enough to qualify for an accommodation.

Still, Hernandez is emphatic that the documentation for every child who has received an accommodation exists at the schools. Hernandez talks of a binder the directors of the schools have in their possession; in it, every student’s qualifying information complete with parent signatures. This is something Vise finds hard to believe. According to Vise, evaluations like these need to be done annually, and every year parents need to sit down with administrators to discuss them, before signing off for the accommodation requested.

Regardless if the documents exist or not, District 60 is concerned about the message the Colorado Department of Education is sending. District 60 officials say, the CDE has opened the door for any and every school district to allow students to use extra time, because of their support of the findings that in this case the extra time did not result in increased test scores. They were looking for the CDE to come down hard on the Cesar Chavez schools for breaking the rules, and instead, the CDE just requested they adjust their policies and procedures by February 1, 2010.

Hernandez says, it shouldn't matter. He says his students received extra time because the audit indicated they found no evidence the extra time resulted in higher scores. While District 60 concedes this begrudgingly, they also point out that it makes no mention as to whether or not the extra time is hiding lower scores that may have resulted if the test were stopped at the appropriate time. It is through those scores they feel the true assessment of the child's knowledge lies, and that those scores can be used in helping the students educational growth.

What remains to be debated is; if a student answers the question correctly within the time limit or outside of it, does it matter? Either way, they had enough knowledge to come to the correct answer, and while it may have taken them longer to reach that point, it cannot be denied they indeed reached it on their own and displayed that they learned how to get there. It falls into the same trap with other educational pitfalls that don't take into account how each student learns at a different rate and/or in a different way than the one sitting in the desk next to him. Still, standardized tests like the CSAP are supposed to be an indicator that gets passed all of these hang-ups, or at least that's what we're told.

In other issues discussed at the work session, the school district Board of Directors have serious concerns about the charter schools themselves. The board is in the dark on who is in charge of curriculum, teacher evaluations, and staff development, all vital areas for any school. Under the Cesar Chavez schools by-laws, if the CEO or head administrator is unable to do the job, it falls to the Board President. In this case, Dr. Hernandez was fired as CEO and top administrator in October, and the current Board President is Dennis Feuerstein. Feuerstein has no background in education, and concerns about his ability to run these charter schools weighs heavily on the minds of District 60 officials. This is coupled with the lack of communication, a reoccurring theme within the Cesar Chavez Schools Network, on how the schools plan to solve their budget shortfalls, as well as an explanation of the cuts they made last month to several student scholarships and programs.

Currently, the District 60 Board is concerned about the welfare of the students who are attending these schools and is looking at setting up a board to board meeting to clear the air, get some answers, and hash out some of these details. They even invited the CCA board to Tuesday's work session. Only one member, Pablo Gonzales, showed up; and only because he happened to be passing by because the regularly scheduled CCA Board meeting had been canceled. Gonzales tells KKTV, Feuerstein informed him of the invitation after he told him his own board meeting was canceled.

In attempting to get a response from Feuerstein on all of these issues, he once again declared, "No comment" and declined to hear about what was talked about. It appears, Feuerstein has no intention of speaking with representatives of KKTV any time soon.

As for the Cesar Chavez Academy / Deloris Huerta Preparatory High board meeting scheduled for today, it was canceled along with all classes at both schools. The first snow-day in the schools history was called Tuesday. Even Dr. Hernandez was surprised by the move. For the nearly 10 years he was administrator of the schools, he never once canceled classes due to the weather. Additionally, the Cesar Chavez charter schools were the only District 60 schools to close for a snow-day.