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Governor's Report Details Widespread, Organized Cheating In Atlanta Schools

A report released, yesterday, by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal puts Atlanta Public Schools in the harshest of light. The report details a school system fraught with unethical behavior that included teachers and principals changing wrong answers on students' answer sheets and an environment where cheating for better test scores was encouraged and whistle blowers were punished.

One teacher told investigators the school district "is run like the mob." She said she cheated because she feared being punished if she didn't.

Here's the Atlanta Journal-Constitution with just the numbers:

The voluminous report names 178 educators, including 38 principals, as participants in cheating. More than 80 confessed. The investigators said they confirmed cheating in 44 of 56 schools they examined.

The investigators conducted more than 2,100 interviews and examined more than 800,000 documents in what is likely the most wide-ranging investigation into test-cheating in a public school district ever conducted in United States history.

The findings are heightened by the fact that the district's former superintendent Beverly Hall was lauded nationally for turning around a struggling school system. In 2009, Hall was named the country's Superintendent of the Year.

The New York Times reports that Hall announced in November she would leave her job in June. Hall, the Times reports, left for a Hawaiian vacation, yesterday.

In a press release Gov. Deal called the scandal a "dark chapter" in Atlanta Public Schools.

"When test results are falsified and students who have not mastered the necessary material are promoted, our students are harmed, parents lose sight of their child's true progress, and taxpayers are cheated," Deal said in a statement.
"The report's findings are troubling, but I am encouraged that this investigation will bring closure to the problems that existed in APS and restore the focus on students and the classroom."

The Times has some background on how this scandal came to a head:

... The investigation shows that cheating on the state-mandated Criterion-Referenced Competency Test began as early as 2001, and that "clear and significant" warnings were raised as early as December 2005. Dr. Hall's administration punished whistle-blowers, hid or manipulated information and illegally altered documents related to the tests, the investigation found. The superintendent and her administration "emphasized test results and public praise to the exclusion of integrity and ethics," the investigators wrote.

In 2008, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution began aggressive reporting that questioned the statistical probability of some test scores and eventually led to a separate state investigation of 2009 tests that showed an unusually high number of erasures.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a must-read piece that narrates the cheating that occurred at Parks Middle School. The paper says what happened there was an example of what was going on in the rest of district. In the piece, Principal Christopher Waller is portrayed as a man obsessed with test scores and willing to cheat blatantly to exceed expectations. Waller raised scores so significantly, he was seen as a miracle worker. Here's one scene that portrays how the cheating happened:

A few weeks later, teacher Damany Lewis told investigators, Waller approached him with an unusual question: "Do you think you could get into something undetected?"

Lewis, who gave investigators an extensive statement admitting his role in the cheating, answered yes. But he did not know what Waller wanted until the principal summoned him a few days afterward. Waller and an aide from a school program called Success-For-All had several CRCT booklets, each shrink-wrapped in plastic. Lewis used a razor blade to slice the plastic around each booklet, slipped out the tests and made copies so teachers could give answers to students. With a lighter, Lewis melted the plastic shut again.

Each year after that, Lewis told investigators, Waller would call him into his office when CRCT booklets arrived.

...

The first year, teachers told investigators, only a few people participated in cheating "parties" that Waller organized. By 2010, Waller's last year at Parks, the numbers grew, and the arrangements became more elaborate. In 2009, for instance, teacher Crystal Draper said two staff members loaded test papers into a blue cooler and delivered them to rooms where teachers were correcting students' mistakes. They returned later with the cooler and hauled the tests away.

The AJC reports that criminal charges could follow the governor's report.

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