Ex-superintendent indicted for Atlanta cheating

Former Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall and 34 others were indicted Friday on charges they conspired to cheat on standardized tests from at least 2005 to 2010, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which conducted the investigation that revealed widespread cheating.

Further, the grand jury charged, Hall, several top aides, principals and teachers engaged in the scheme for their own financial gain. And with investigators closing in, the jury said, Hall and others lied to cover up their crimes.

. . . Pressuring subordinates to produce targeted scores, the indictment said, “created an environment where achieving the desired end result was more important than the students’ education.”

“This is nothing but pervasive and rank thuggery,” said Richard Hyde, one of the special investigators.

The indictment served as a resounding refutation of Hall’s assertions that Atlanta had found the secret formula that had long eluded educators elsewhere: how to get strong performances from poor, mostly minority students in decaying urban schools. For her efforts, Hall was named the national superintendent of the year in 2009.

Hall collected more than $225,000 in bonuses in 2007 to 2009 by certifying test scores “which she knew were false,” the grand jury found. Her base salary exceeded $300,000 by 2009.

Cheater prospers

I Used to Think … and Now I Think, reflections by education reformers, includes an essay by recently departed Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall, writes John Merrow.

In eight largely self-serving pages, Dr. Hall celebrates her accomplishments. She tells us that it took her three years to bring the school system under her direct control and “to institutionalize strong ethics requirements limiting the school board’s direct involvement with the day-to-day operations of the system.” . . .  Since the Georgia Bureau of Investigation report traces the cheating right to the superintendent’s desk, the sentence resonates with irony.

Hall received nearly $600,000 in bonuses during her time in Atlanta, Merrow notes. “How much of that was for raising test scores (fraudulently) is unclear, but the Board wants to ‘claw back’ those dollars.”

 

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.