Educators begin surrendering in alleged Atlanta cheating scandal

Atlanta school system caught cheating
An investigation into 56 Atlanta schools revealed a decade of systematic cheating by 178 principals and teachers on standardized tests used all around the country to measure how well schools are doing. Mark Strassmann reports.

(CBS News) Thirty-five Atlanta educators are expected to surrender Tuesday after being indicted in the biggest alleged cheating scandal involving standardized testing in American history. The list of suspects includes everyone from the former superintendent to principals and teachers.

All 35 of those educators have until noon on Tuesday to turn themselves in for booking. At least two of them have already showed up for processing.

Investigators say Atlanta's school district orchestrated a culture of cheating to benefit those at the top.

Nearly 200 educators admitted to taking part in the massive scandal: they tampered with students' standardized tests and corrected answers to inflate scores. Some teachers had pizza parties to erase wrong answers and circle in the right ones. One principal allegedly handled altered tests wearing gloves to avoid leaving her fingerprints.

At one middle school, 86 percent of eighth-graders scored proficient in math, compared to 24 percent the year before. Prosecutors say that progress was a criminal mirage.

"The four principle crimes that are charged in the indictment are the statements and writings, false swearings, theft by taking, and influencing witnesses," Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard, Jr. said.

Beverly Hall is Atlanta's retired school superintendent. Her system's turnaround won her national fame, awards, and more than $500,000 in performance bonuses. But investigators say she pressured teachers and principals to cheat, and punished those who refused. Hall, among those indicted, has denied the charges. A grand jury recommended her bail be set at $7.5 million.

Justina Collins says her daughter Nybria, now 15, has always struggled with reading. The single mother knew something was wrong when Nybria aced her standardized test in reading.

"Could someone explain to me how she could have passed or exceed a test, but fail throughout the whole entire year? ... When you hear it coming from the very ones that you look up to, to help educate your children, it's just sad and hurtful to know that we search and hope for the best for our kids, and that's what their oath is to provide the best education for them," Collins said.

Nybria is now a ninth grader reading at a fifth-grade level.

All 35 educators face racketeering charges. The maximum sentence could be 20 years in prison.