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Del Rey Council to Consider Letter of Support for Beleaguered Short Avenue Elementary

The full panel will next month consider the education committee's letter in support of the school in the wake of a cheating scandal.

The Del Rey Neighborhood Council's Education Committee met Wednesday night and drafted a letter of support for Short Avenue Elementary School, which recently had its test scores tossed out by the California Department of Education due to testing irregularities.

A report by the Los Angeles Unified School District said that three teachers at the high-performing school have been accused of changing answers, coaching students on test questions or both. The alleged teacher cheating was first reported in the Los Angeles Times.

The LAUSD conducted internal investigations after the cheating allegations came to light and notified the state Education Department. Short Avenue was removed from this year's Academic Performance Index, a rating used to measure schools in California, and the teachers were removed from the classroom. (For the district's report and state's response, see the attached documents.)

A group of parents who met with district officials earlier this month reportedly stood behind the teachers and insisted they be returned to the classroom.

A parent of a child at Short Avenue Elementary attended the education committee meeting and said she thought it was "disgusting" that people were casting judgment on the three accused teachers who together have about 100 years of experience at the school.

She said one of the accused teachers did not encourage children to cheat.

"The teacher did not follow the correct testing procedure and made an error in judgment, but never did he tell any of the children to cheat," she said.

She apparently was referring to "Teacher A" who was described as a second-grade teacher in the district's report to the state. The report said that Short Avenue Elementary Principal James Downing III received an anonymous email from a parent who said "Teacher A" reviewed all test questions with students at the end of the testing day. Students use the same booklet during the multi-day test and six students admitted they went back the next day and changed their incorrect answers, the report said.

"The teacher never said change your answer, cheat on the test, never, never, the teacher never would have," she said. "This is the best teacher in the entire school."

The parent said that four students already have pulled out of the school and its reputation has been harmed in the wake of the testing scandal.

Another Short Avenue Elementary supporter who has written grants for the school said the testing scandal has been a setback after years of hard work and success.

The district's report also singled out a third-grade teacher identified as "Teacher B" whose students had 207 erasures, with the majority changed to correct answers. Downing questioned students and learned that "Teacher B" walked around the classroom and pointed out wrong answers and told students to check that particular problem. Other students said the teacher helped them decide which operation to use for a math problem. When asked if this was cheating, the students said "no" because the teacher never told them the correct answer. Twenty-one students admitted that "Teacher B" helped them with their tests.

A third-grade instructor identified as "Teacher C" was investigated after a review of test booklets showed numerous erasures, the district's report said. The average test booklet had 10-21 erasures with most of them changed to the correct answers.

One student said she turned her booklet in with no answers because the questions were too hard, but a review of her test booklet found that all her math answers were correct and "bubbled in perfectly as well," the report said. The student was unable to perform a basic addition/subtraction problem while in the principal's office. Most students were advised which answers were incorrect and were instructed to return to their seats to correct their answers. Fourteen students submitted their tests to "Teacher C."

Short Avenue last year had a performance index ranking of 848, well above the state target of 800 and was the subject of a Patch article on its high performance.

The parent at the meeting said the second-grade teacher listed in the report was slated to be moved into a kindergarten class, where testing does not occur, but was assigned to a non-teaching district facility after the Times' story was published. Another teacher implicated in the report resigned and the other also has been assigned to the non-teaching facility, the parent said.

The letter supporting Short Avenue Elementary said that the Del Rey Neighborhood Council stands behind the school, its students and families. The letter said that despite starting the school year with a heavy burden, Short Avenue Elementary continues to provide enrichment opportunities for students and serves as a model for community schools.

"When I think about Short Avenue Elementary, I think about the fact that it truly is a community school," said education committee member and council treasurer Brett Flater. "Out of all the schools in Del Rey and all the schools I've worked with, and worked for, Short does such an amazing job of bringing in the community, not outside individuals, but people who live in the neighborhood."

The full board of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council will consider supporting the letter at its next meeting, Oct. 13.

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