EdCChavezSign92309An audit of testing practices at Cesar Chavez Academy in Pueblo finds three successive years of “extremely high” rates of special accommodations for test-takers – but no evidence of answer tampering or test coaching.

Auditors also said there was no evidence that the extra time, typically another 30 minutes per test-taker, resulted in improved scores for CCA students on the Colorado Student Assessment Program.

Lawrence Hernandez, CCA’s controversial founder, said he feels “vindication.”

“What the audit shows is that the kids earned the results they received,” said Hernandez, who was ousted from the school in October and is now suing the school’s governing board.

Still, “There is no justifiable basis for these high rates of accommodation levels,” state Education Commissioner Dwight Jones said in a news release Monday. “The state is compelled to require Cesar Chavez Academy to establish new policies and implement new procedures to ensure these high rates of accommodations are not repeated.”

As Education News Colorado first reported in July, 56 percent of Cesar Chavez Academy students in grades 3 through 8 received extra time on their 2008 reading exams. In comparison, 6.9 percent of all Colorado students in grades 3 through 8 received extra time on their 2008 reading tests.

The Caveon Test Security audit points to  similar discrepancies between the school and state practices, noting that 77.5 percent of Cesar Chavez third-graders were provided extra time on state writing tests in 2007 compared to just 6.5 percent of students statewide.

Colorado Department of Education officials commissioned the audit at the request in June of former Pueblo City Schools Superintendent John Covington. The state paid Utah-based Caveon $25,000 and released the firm’s findings on Monday.

Among the highlights:

  • No evidence of answer sheet tampering through erasures, test coaching through similar test analysis or unusual gains from prior years.
  • Normal rates of extra-time accommodations in 2006 at CCA but “extreme rates of extra-time accommodations” in 2007 and 2008 in all grades and in grades 3 and 7  in 2009.
  • Inconsistent use of extra-time accommodations for the same students from 2008 to 2009; for example, “an unexpectedly large number of students” who received extra time in 2008 did not receive the same accommodation in 2009 – whether the students stayed at CCA or moved to another school.
  • No evidence of testing irregularities at CCA’s sister school in Pueblo, Dolores Huerta Preparatory High; Denver’s Cesar Chavez Academy, which has its own governing board, was not part of the audit.

Pueblo City Schools officials released a statement saying the Caveon audit “confirms allegations that inappropriate CSAP test administration has taken place at Cesar Chavez Academy for the past three years.”

“This is unfortunate for so many families who had such high aspirations for the school as it was originally envisioned,” Pueblo City’s school board president, Stephanie Garcia, said in the release.

“It certainly is sad that those in authority at CCA lost sight of the vision by compromising the school’s credibility and misleading children and their families into a false assessment of a student’s academic performance.”

CDE’s Jones has requested the CCA develop and submit to Pueblo City Schools a written plan to remedy training and implementation of testing procedures by Feb. 1. He said the plan must include new CCA policies and assurances that school test procedures are transparent to the school district and the state.

Pueblo district officials say they’re considering “a range of actions that could include, but not limited to, proctoring of future CSAP tests at CCA, sanctions against CCA administration and working with the CDE to invalidate certain CCA test results as a result of misadministration.

“We do not refute the audit findings but in fact embrace them as an opportunity to move forward with our educational programs,” Dennis Feuerstein, governing board president of the Cesar Chavez Schools Network, which includes CCA, said in a statement.

“Faculty, staff, and students are not surprised that there is no evidence of tampering, teaching to, copying of, or ‘cheating’ during the CSAP,” he said. “Our students and teachers have worked extremely hard and their high achievement has been confirmed.”

Feuerstein said the schools’ network acknowledges “that a significant number of students” received extra time but said, “The internal policies and procedures regarding these extra time accommodations were practices mandated by prior administration that are no longer associated with our schools.”

It was unclear if Feuerstein was referring to Hernandez, the CEO of the Cesar Chavez Schools’ Network through October. Feuerstein, among those being sued by Hernandez over his ouster, did not return a call requesting clarification.

CCA, a K-8 charter school, has won national attention for achieving high test scores with a high-minority, high-poverty student enrollment. But the school’s accomplishments have long been questioned by some in the Pueblo school district and in the Pueblo community.

The CDE also is planning a financial audit of Cesar Chavez Academy and expects “soon” to announce the firm selected for that audit, according to its release.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at [email protected] or 303-478-4573.