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Short Avenue parents back teachers in cheating case

L.A. Unified officials are urged to reinstate instructors who were reassigned pending a review of allegations of misconduct on Academic Performance Index.

September 15, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • Sabine Cutrono, who has two children at Short Avenue Elementary, wipes away tears as Principal James Downing answers questions from angry parents during a meeting about allegations of cheating.
Sabine Cutrono, who has two children at Short Avenue Elementary, wipes… (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles…)

Parents at a high-performing Los Angeles school called this week for the reinstatement of teachers who were removed from their classes for allegedly cheating on state standardized tests.

An initial investigation in May concluded that one second-grade teacher and two third-grade teachers at Short Avenue Elementary either coached students improperly, changed incorrect answers on tests or both. Last month, when officials released school scores for the Academic Performance Index — the state's primary yardstick for evaluating schools — Short Avenue in Del Rey was denied a score.

District officials said this week that the three teachers have been reassigned to an administrative office pending further review. Teachers who are determined to be guilty of cheating can be fired and stripped of their teaching credentials.

But at a Tuesday evening meeting called to address parents' concerns, there was strong support for the teachers.

"He was convicted without a trial," parent Toni Benson said of one teacher's removal. "We should bring our teachers back. We're all in support of the way they teach at this school."

Sabine Cutrono urged other parents to stand in support of the displaced teachers, all veteran Short Avenue instructors. Nearly all of the 60 parents rose.

District officials said they had no alternative but to investigate when a parent reported that a second-grade teacher reviewed questions on the standardized tests after students had finished with them for the day. Students use different portions of the same multiple-choice booklets for the tests.

Students "admitted that they went back the next day and changed their incorrect answer to the correct one as a result of the previous day's review," L.A. Unified wrote in its report to the state.

A parent at the meeting, who said she was present during testing, corroborated that the teacher had gone over questions, but insisted there was no intent to cheat, and that the punishment exceeded the transgression.

Parents also said that the second-grade teacher was not removed from the school until after The Times wrote about the testing irregularites. Instead, this instructor had been transferred from second-grade to kindergarten, a level where standardized testing does not occur. Several parents supported that move.

The teachers' names have not been released, although their identities were no mystery to members of the tightly knit school community

"The teachers have the utmost integrity," Cutrono said after the meeting. "The parents have so much faith in these teachers as teachers and as role models."

One third-grade teacher is suspected of changing answers. Another third-grade teacher allegedly helped students during the test. Both teachers had an abnormally high number of erasures that corrected mistaken responses, according to district documents.

"We take these irregularities very seriously and we have to," said interim regional administrator Brenda Manuel. "This is a very fine school and we know that our children do very well."

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