Dear Commons Community,
Eleven former Atlanta public school educators were convicted Wednesday of racketeering for their role in a scheme to inflate students’ scores on standardized exams. More than two years after dozens of people were indicted over a widespread cheating scandal in the Atlanta public school system, a jury found former teachers and educators guilty yesterday of conspiring to change test scores.
The lengthy trial focused on a scandal that had drawn widespread attention as teachers and principals from elementary and middle schools were charged with racketeering. Many of them later took plea deals to avoid the trial, with some pleading guilty and agreeing to probation, community service as well as vowing to apologize. Twelve decided to stand trial. As reported in the New York Times:
“Our entire effort in this case was simply to get our community to stop and take a look at our educational system,” District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr. said, adding, “I think because of the decision of this jury today that people will stop. I think people will stop, and they will make an assessment of our educational system.”
The dozen educators who stood trial, including five teachers and a principal, were indicted in 2013 after years of questions about how Atlanta students had substantially improved their scores on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, a standardized examination given throughout Georgia.
In 2009, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution started publishing a series of articles that sowed suspicion about the veracity of the test scores, and Gov. Sonny Perdue ultimately ordered an investigation.
The inquiry, which was completed in 2011, led to findings that were startling and unsparing: Investigators concluded that cheating had occurred in at least 44 schools and that the district had been troubled by “organized and systemic misconduct.” Nearly 180 employees, including 38 principals, were accused of wrongdoing as part of an effort to inflate test scores and misrepresent the achievement of Atlanta’s students and schools.
The investigators wrote that cheating was particularly ingrained in individual schools — at one, for instance, a principal wore gloves while she altered answer sheets — but they also said that the district’s top officials, including Superintendent Beverly L. Hall, bore some responsibility.
Investigators wrote in the report that Dr. Hall and her aides had “created a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” that had permitted “cheating — at all levels — to go unchecked for years.”
Officials said the cheating allowed employees to collect bonuses and helped improve the reputations of both Dr. Hall and the perpetually troubled school district she had led since 1999. Dr. Hall died earlier this year on March 2nd.”
This whole episode is an indictment of an education system that became obsessed with test sores and student assessments. This scandal has become another factor in an increasing debate over testing and its role in education.
“People know that the test scores are flawed for a variety of reasons and that they cannot be relied on as the sole or primary factor to make high-stakes decisions,” said Robert A. Schaeffer, the public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing.