Colorado

‘No justifiable basis’ for Chavez test accommodations

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 nmitchell@pebc.org or 303-478-4573.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede