Atlanta cheating scandal is huge

Cheating raised test scores at Atlanta schools over the last 10 years, concludes a state investigation. Under pressure to meet Superintendent Beverly Hall’s high academic goals, 44 of 58 schools investigated cheated on the state exam, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The cheating appears to predate No Child Left Behind.

Teachers and principals erased and corrected mistakes on students’ answer sheets.

Area superintendents silenced whistle-blowers and rewarded subordinates who met academic goals by any means possible.

Superintendent Beverly Hall and her top aides ignored, buried, destroyed or altered complaints about misconduct, claimed ignorance of wrongdoing and accused naysayers of failing to believe in poor children’s ability to learn.

Hall, who was named superintendent of the year in 2009, retired last month in the midst of the cheating investigation. She blamed low-level employees for cheating, saying the problem was not systematic.

Some district employees got bonuses for raising test scores. Some teachers say they were threatened with losing their jobs if they didn’t go along.

At Venetian Hills, a group of teachers and administrators who dubbed themselves “the chosen ones” convened to change answers in the afternoons or during makeup testing days, investigators found. Principal Clarietta Davis, a testing coordinator told investigators, wore gloves while erasing to avoid leaving fingerprints on answer sheets.

. . . At Gideons Elementary, teachers sneaked tests off campus and held a weekend “changing party” at a teacher’s home in Douglas County to fix answers.

Cheating was “an open secret” at the school, the report said. The testing coordinator handed out answer-key transparencies to place over answer sheets so the job would go faster.

. . . At Kennedy Middle, children who couldn’t read not only passed the state reading test, but scored at the highest level possible. At Perkerson Elementary, a student sat under a desk, then randomly filled in answers and still passed.At East Lake Elementary, the principal and testing coordinator instructed teachers to arrange students’ seats so that the lower-performing children would receive easier versions of the Fifth Grade Writing Tests.

A school that cheated to meet its targets had to keep on cheating to meet higher targets. Meanwhile, students who needed extra help didn’t get it because their test scores showed they were doing well.

In 2010, as investigators zeroed in on schools with high wrong-to-right erasures, test scores dropped at many Atlanta schools.

Some district officials may face criminal charges.

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