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L.A. Unified set to renew charter contract despite evidence of cheating

The director of Crescendo charters, which operates six campuses south of downtown L.A., directed principals and teachers to let students study the actual exam questions on important standardized tests.

February 28, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

Two of the six Crescendo charter schools are up for a five-year renewal at Tuesday's meeting: Crescendo Charter Academy in Gardena and Crescendo Conservatory in Hawthorne.

The district's recommendation is based largely on high test scores before 2010. Some teachers told district staff that they'd also heard of cheating in 2009, but the district could not confirm those allegations.

The Gardena campus had gains of 31 and 62 points on the state Academic Performance Index in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, the year of confirmed cheating, its score went up another 55 points, a rate of improvement consistent with the two previous years. The invalidated state index score would have been 867. The state's target score for schools, on a scale of 200 to 1000, is 800.

The Hawthorne campus jumped an astonishing 224 points in 2008 to an API score of 907, rising from one of the state's lowest- to highest-scoring schools in one year. Only 17 students were tested each year, which could account for steep fluctuation. Most students were in kindergarten or first grade, levels that aren't tested. The next year 22 students took the exams and the score dropped 80 points but remained high. No score was calculated for 2010.

Crescendo schools enrolled a total of 1,294 students last year; 44% were in kindergarten or first grade.

The 2010 cheating was discovered in time to prevent additional cheating on the actual testing days, the district said.

Scores for Crescendo Prep South in Manchester Square were never calculated for 2010. And the 2010 scores at three other Crescendo schools, which were later tossed out, showed a decline, calling the successes of prior years into further question.

At Crescendo Preparatory West in Gardena, test scores in 2010 declined 63 points from the prior year. Crescendo Prep Central in Gramercy Park slipped 7 points.

And scores at Crescendo Charter in Vermont Square declined 52 points. This school recently won a state academic achievement award.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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