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Westside charter school teacher gone after allegations of cheating

Teacher at an Ocean Charter campus was found to have given fourth-graders a chance to correct their mistakes on a state test, risking the school's API rating.

May 20, 2012|By Howard BlumeLos Angeles Times

A Westside charter school teacher has left her job following allegations that she pointed out wrong answers to her fourth-graders during state testing this month and then gave them an opportunity to make corrections.

According to an Ocean Charter School administrator, 11 students said they had received assistance from the teacher, Ashley Gossett. Ten others who were asked said they did not receive help.

The incident could jeopardize Ocean Charter's Academic Performance Index rating. If more than 5% of test-taking students could have been affected by the alleged cheating, the state is likely to invalidate the school's score.

A school's API score gets widespread attention and, for a charter, can be instrumental in remaining open. Charters are independently operated but authorized by the local school system. They typically are expected to deliver solid performance on state tests.

Cheating or lesser mistakes by teachers and other staff led to canceled scores at about two dozen California schools last year.

"We took this very seriously," said campus Director Kristy Mack-Fett. "We contained it and took the necessary steps in terms of discipline. It's a very unfortunate event, especially because this teacher was well-beloved and had been with some of the students for five years. But it doesn't matter who it is: This is not tolerated."

Ocean Charter enrolls about 420 students from kindergarten through eighth grade and operates out of two locations, one in Del Rey and one in Mar Vista, where Gossett taught. It is a Waldorf-style school that emphasizes "the whole child, promoting the development of healthy, responsible and creative human beings," according to its website.

Some Waldorf adherents are uncomfortable with the use of standardized tests. Like other aspects of an education, Mack-Fett said, testing "offers one piece of a complete picture."

One parent said she realized something was amiss when her child knew after the first day of testing how many questions had been answered incorrectly. The child told her that students in the class got a second chance after Gossett circled their incorrect answers in pencil.

"I think it's terrible," said the parent, who requested anonymity out of fear of reprisals from other parents or the school. "I don't want my child to think that this is OK."

At least one parent reported the issue to the state education department; officials there said they could not comment on an ongoing investigation. However, Ocean Charter officials said that a call from the state just as the second day of testing was to begin led them to place a second proctor in Gossett's class.

An internal investigation took less than a day and confirmed the allegation, Mack-Fett said. Gossett subsequently did not return to work.

In a letter to parents last week, the school said it had verified a "testing irregularity" but provided no details. Venice-Mar Vista Patch, a local news website, broke the story Friday.

One parent told The Times she was disappointed that the school had taken more than a week to inform parents of the situation. During the interim parents received emails from Gossett, 30, saying she had left the school because her husband had accepted a job in New York City.

Others, however, were most angry about the disclosure of the alleged cheating.

"I feel we are one big family with Ms. Ashley as the conduit, only to be ripped apart by one parent," read one comment in an email thread among parents. "I thought we all were close enough, if there was a problem we handle it internally.… Ms. Ashley made a critical error done out of love."

Gossett could not be reached for comment.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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