Atlanta educators indicted in cheating scandal

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ATLANTA A grand jury indicted about three dozen educators Friday in one of the nation's largest cheating scandals that rocked Atlanta's public schools.

The indictment named the former Superintendent Beverly Hall as well as several high-level administrators, principals and teachers. Hall faces charges including racketeering, false statements and theft. She retired just days before the 2011 probe was released, and has previously denied the allegations.

A state investigation in 2011 found cheating by nearly 180 educators in 44 Atlanta schools. Educators gave answers to students or changed answers on tests after they were turned in, investigators said. Teachers who tried to report it faced retaliation, creating a culture of "fear and intimidation" in the district.

The cheating came to light after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that some scores were statistically improbable.

The criminal investigation lasted 21 months and the allegations dated back to 2005.

Most of the 178 educators named in a special investigators' report resigned, retired, did not have their contracts renewed or appealed their dismissals and lost. Twenty-one educators have been reinstated and three await hearings to appeal their dismissals, said Atlanta Public Schools spokesman Stephen Alford.

The tests were the key measure the state used to determine whether it met the federal No Child Left Behind law. Schools with good test scores get extra federal dollars to spend in the classroom or on teacher bonuses.

Georgia last year was granted a waiver from the federal law, which allowed schools to count a host of measures in addition to standardized tests.

State schools Superintendent John Barge said last year he believes the state's new accountability system will remove the pressure to cheat on standardized tests because it won't be the sole way the state determines student growth. The pressure was part of what some educators in Atlanta Public Schools blamed for their cheating.

Alford, the schools spokesman, said the district was moving on from the scandal.

"This is a legal matter between the individuals implicated and the Fulton County District Attorney's office, and we will allow the legal process to take its course," he said before the indictment was announced. "Our focus is on providing a quality education to all of our students and supporting the 6,000 employees who come to work each day and make sound decisions about educating our students."

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission is responsible for licensing teachers and has been going through the complaints against teachers, said commission executive secretary Kelly Henson.

The commission considers cases as they are released from the district attorney's office. By Wednesday, they had received all but 26, Henson said.

The commission waits for the district attorneys before taking action on those cases because there is likely evidence that will be useful for the commission's own investigation.

"It is very routine for us to work with the DA's office and say we're not going to step on each other's toes and we'll work around their schedule," Henson said.

It's common for educators to receive professional sanctions from the commission but not be charged, Henson said. The commission only requires a finding of guilt based on good evidence of wrongdoing, while criminal prosecutions require guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Of the 159 cases that the commission already reviewed, 44 resulted in license revocations, 100 got two-year suspensions and nine were suspended for less than two years, Henson said. No action was taken against six of the educators.

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