Charter school disqualified from receiving API score due to cheating allegations
By most measures, Green Dot Public Schools, a well-regarded group of a dozen public charter schools in Greater Los Angeles, had a great year on test scores.
But that success has been tempered by a black spot: One of its high schools, Animo Leadership – which has an Inglewood address but is chartered by the Lennox School District – was disqualified from receiving an official Academic Performance Index score due to concerns over cheating.
The state on Wednesday released API scores for most every school in the state, but for Animo Leadership, in place of a score, the state database listed a cryptic message regarding a testing “irregularity.”
Green Dot leaders on Wednesday explained that they discovered a high number of erasure marks on several 11th-grade physics exams, and promptly reported the matter to officials with the California Department of Education.
“We went after it pretty hard and aggressively,” Mario Petruzzi, CEO of Green Dot schools, told the Daily Breeze. “We did not try to sweep it under the rug. Will people every now and then try to cheat? Of course. But how you react to it sends a strong signal about how the organization feels about it.”
The news comes at a time when other charter schools – as well as traditional public schools – are coming under fire for cheating on test scores.
The Los Angeles Unified School District is shutting down the half-dozen schools run by Crescendo Schools for a scandal in which directions from the founder ultimately led underlings to open sealed tests and use the questions to prep students. On the East Coast, Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of Washington, D.C., public schools and the public face of the school reform movement, has been hounded by the media ever since USA Today broke a story about an usually high number of erasure marks at 41 Washington schools when she was chancellor.
But Petruzzi said the situation at his school is vastly different than other highly publicized instances of alleged cheating, in that it was the result of a rogue teacher, as opposed to pressure from the top.
“It was an isolated case,” he said.
Petruzzi said administrators reported the discrepancy as soon as they saw the tests – the day after the students took the exam.
He declined to divulge the fate of the teacher, citing concerns about personnel confidentiality laws.
Named multiple times in recent years to U.S. News & World Report’s list of the 100 best high schools in the country, the 11-year-old school is part of Green Dot Public Schools, a leader statewide and nationally in the burgeoning charter schools movement.
The organization took over Los Angeles Unified School District’s failing Locke High in 2008, and its crusading founder Steve Barr was profiled in the New Yorker a year later. The schools are branded “Animo,” or “spirit” in Spanish. The school draws most of its students from the K-8 Lennox School District.
Animo Leadership was the organization’s first school – and the first charter campus in the South Bay. It opened in 2000, initially operating out of classrooms at a small Inglewood law school.
The school is building a new 50,000-square-foot, environmentally friendly campus, set to open in coming months, about a mile east of LAX in unincorporated Lennox.
John Boivin, a testing administrator with the California Department of Education, said the specific testing issue involved about 150 of the school’s 604 students.
Even though Animo reported the discrepancy, the state is punishing the school not only by invalidating its API score, but also disqualifying it from receiving awards for two years.
While the school’s score has officially been disqualified, administrators there have calculated its API to be 796 – a 52-point leap over last year. The average one-year gain for the franchise’s “founding five” schools – which also includes Animo Inglewood, Oscar de la Hoya Animo, Animo South LA and Animo Venice – is 30 points. The founding five’s average API score is 766.
Staff writer Melissa Pamer contributed to this article.