Einstein Charter Schools failed to give state-required social studies exam to its middle school students this spring, an error that will negatively affect the charter schools’ state performance scores, according to a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Education.

“Einstein failed to administer the social studies assessment to 534 students in grades 5-8 this spring,” Louisiana Department of Education spokeswoman Sydni Dunn wrote in an email. “It was the only instance, statewide, of a site not administering an entire assessment to an entire grade.”

As a result, the Orleans Parish school district issued its most severe warning to the four-school charter network on Wednesday, after confirming the problem with Einstein administrators earlier this week.

In the warning letter, district Senior Equity and Accountability Officer Kelli Peterson wrote that because the charter group “failed to comply with OPSB and [state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education] policy as well as the law” regarding state testing, it is “officially deemed non-compliant with its contractual and legal obligations.”

“It was the only instance, statewide, of a site not administering an entire assessment to an entire grade.”—Sydni Dunn, Louisiana Department of Education

District officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.

This spring, the letter says, fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students at Sherwood Forest, Village de L’est and Einstein Middle at Sarah T. Reed did not complete the state LEAP exam for social studies. Einstein’s fourth campus is a high school.

A spokeswoman for Einstein said network CEO Michael McKenzie “was notified by school testing and academic officers that a required Social Studies portion of the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program or LEAP exam” was not administered this spring. McKenzie, who was hired in February, notified the district.

“The Einstein School Board immediately engaged school attorneys to initiate an internal investigation in compliance with the school’s charter and the Einstein Board’s fiduciary responsibilities,” spokeswoman Heather Harper wrote in an email.

Most charter networks and independent charter schools are considered their own school districts, and districts are allowed to create their own testing schedules. But the tests must occur during a five-week testing window outlined by the state.

“Districts create their own unique testing schedule within that time frame,” Dunn wrote. “This is thoroughly communicated by the state to schools and districts throughout each school year.”

The missed exams will have a negative effect on the Einstein’s 2019 state-issued school performance score that will come out this fall. Those scores — based mostly on standardized test performance — are a significant factor in district decisions on whether to renew charter school contracts or close the schools.

“When a school does not administer an exam, as was the case at this site, each exam is counted as a zero in the accountability system that informs the school’s performance score,” Dunn wrote.

This has happened at other city schools that had testing problems. In 2017, James Singleton Charter School allowed students to take exams with extra help they didn’t qualify for. The state voided those test scores, which eventually resulted in Singleton’s state letter grade dropping from a C to a D.

But the missed exams won’t affect students, Harper said.

“This action does not impact the promotion of any student, but it does require a full internal investigation of the adults who were responsible at Einstein,” she wrote. “The CEO will be working with the Einstein Board, the Orleans Parish School Board and the State Department of Education to aggressively pursue all appropriate correction actions.”

In her letter to McKenzie and Einstein board Chairman Durrell Laurent, Peterson wrote that district policy requires charter schools to “participate fully in the Louisiana standardized testing and accountability programs.” That includes the social studies exam.

“This action does not impact the promotion of any student, but it does require a full internal investigation of the adults who were responsible at Einstein.”—Heather Harper, Einstein Charter Schools

Peterson ordered the school to take action in several testing-related areas, including proactive steps for next spring. Next school year, the charter group must submit a detailed testing schedule and proof that the network’s district testing coordinator and staff members have completed state training for all required tests. Einstein must also prove it has hired a test monitoring company to observe two days of testing.

To account for potential ramifications from this spring’s error, Einstein must contact the Louisiana Department of Education by July 19 “to determine the appropriate actions necessary to address any penalties that may impact teachers” for failing to administer the test.

Then the charter must provide a plan to the district addressing how it will remedy any problems teachers face by July 26.

Harper said Einstein has approved a new organizational chart. She said the network also approved “non-negotiable protocols for testing to provide efficiency and thoroughness in all future test administration.”

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...