For charter school extra credit: What’s the difference between accommodating and cheating?

Last week, the Colorado Department of Education released an outside audit of standardized testing procedures at Pueblo’s Cesar Chavez Academy. In essence, the audit found that while an unusually high number of students received accommodations (usually extra time or a scribe to write down answers)—that wasn’t actually cheating.

The audit has raised questions about what constitutes cheating—and whether by “going soft” on the charter school, the state is inviting more CSAP cheating in the future.

From the Denver Post:


In the most extreme example, auditors authorized by the state’s Department of Education found that almost 87 percent of CCA fifth-graders in 2008 were given extra time on math tests. Statewide, only 4.8 percent received extra time on that same test.

Interestingly, auditors say the extra time appears not to have helped provide an extra advantage to the students. Students performed consistently on tests from year to year whether given more time or not.

But the Pueblo school district says it thinks the state is sending the wrong message by not invalidating the tests on which students were inappropriately given extra time.

From KKTV:

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.

In an interesting twist, Dr. Lawrence Hernandez, founder of Cesar Chavez Academy (who was recently removed from his position as chief executive of the Cesar Chavez Network) claimed that the students deserved the extra time. As he told KKTV:

“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.”

Weighing in shortly after the audit, The Denver Post pointed out that whether or not the accommodations helped the students is beside the point:

The extra time certainly didn’t hurt their performance.

And even the appearance of an advantage taints the reputation of a school that had attracted national attention for its ability to dramatically improve student performance among minority and impoverished students.

It also most certainly sends the wrong message to kids.

The bad publicity also hurts the charter-school movement, despite the promise shown in many of the schools.

At the Pueblo Chieftan, Managing Editor Steve Henson felt similarly:

Giving students extra time who did not qualify for extra time – they weren’t special-education students, they didn’t have their writing hands in a cast, etc. – IS cheating.

If a student at Bradford and one at Cesar Chavez take the same test, and the student at Cesar Chavez has an extra 10-15 minutes to complete the test, which student has a competitive advantage?
For the auditors to conclude there wasn’t cheating and that the extra time didn’t result in higher test scores is mind-boggling.

The audit, performed by Caveon Testing Security, a Utah firm, cost $25,000. The state is also in the process of scheduling a financial audit to determine if there was any wrongdoing in that arena.

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