It’s the nation’s biggest teacher-cheating scandal.
On Friday, March 29, a grand jury charged 35 Atlanta educators with running a conspiracy in which standardized test scores were secretly raised in a ploy to get bonuses and ensure job security.
By the following Wednesday afternoon, April 3, all of the educators indicted in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal had been booked into the Fulton County Jail.
This is surely a first in the annals of U.S. education. Let’s hope it’s also a last.
As Care2′s Amelia Thomson-Veaux wrote here in July 2011, a state probe in Georgia revealed widespread, systematic cheating in nearly half of Atlanta’s 100 public schools as far back as 2001. Over those ten years, the Atlanta public schools garnered significant acclaim for their steadily rising test scores. But then the truth came out.
Shockingly, cheating by teachers on standardized tests has been reported in 30 states, but the situation in Atlanta was truly egregious. As ProPublica reported here, teachers in Atlanta were so used to changing students’ answers on standardized tests that they gathered for “erasure” parties and prepared answer keys on plastic transparencies to make the cheating easier.
So much for all the values most of us teachers try to instill in our students.
Many Atlanta educators have already either lost their teaching licenses or had them suspended by education officials, but now it’s the turn of the criminal system. A team of state-appointed investigators spent 21 months looking into allegations that teachers and administrators at a handful of Atlanta schools routinely changed test scores or gave students correct answers. Their report became the basis for these criminal charges.
At the center of interest is Beverly L. Hall, the former school superintendent who rose through the education ranks in Newark and New York City and who was named superintendent of the year during her 12 years with the Atlanta district.
From The New York Times:
The teachers, principals and administrators had been told that they had to report to jail by Tuesday, at which time they could argue to have bail amounts as high as $7.5 million reduced. As evening came, only 18 had been processed, but several had won a break in their bond requirements.
Most notably, Dr. Hall negotiated her $7.5 million bond — considered a largely punitive figure set by the grand jurors, some of whom argued for it to be $10 million — down to $200,000. She was allowed to use her signature to cover $150,000 of it, with the rest to be paid in cash, said David Bailey, one of her lawyers.
She will pay only 10 percent of that, and most of it will be refunded, he said. Dr. Hall arrived at the jail to be processed around 7:30 p.m., surrounded by her lawyers. She left the jail about 11 p.m.
In addition to the former superintendent, the 35 arrested included a human resources director, several principals, other administrators, a testing coordinator, and some teachers. This was obviously a well-coordinated scheme, involving educators at all levels.
Their charges varied from racketeering and altering standardized test scores to accepting bonus money based on the falsified test results and lying to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation when they denied all knowledge of anyone giving students answers in the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.
Educators Face 65 Charges
In total, these educators face 65 charges. Dr. Hall, who retired in 2011, was charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. She continued to deny any knowledge of cheating.
If convicted, she could face up to 40 years in prison.
Meanwhile, a group of African-American clergy members and former educators have spoken out, pointing out that the investigators are white and the accused are largely black, and calling the charges racist.
It’s not so surprising that such a charge should be raised, implying that Ms. Hall and her educators are victims in some way.
High-Stakes Tests Are To Blame
The reality, however, is that none of this would have happened if it were not for standardized tests, which have become so high-stakes that they can determine the future of both a school and its administration. If used at all (they are not in other countries such as Finland), they should be only one of several measures used to evaluate students, not THE measure.
That absolutely does not excuse Ms. Hall and the other 34, who deliberately set up a system to enrich themselves, and cheat the good and honest teachers who try, however painfully, to both teach as they are mandated and educate their students at the time time.
If Ms. Hall and her cohorts are found guilty, they have cheated not just the students, but also the teachers in her charge who believed in the value of a real education.
They have also damaged the reputation of the entire teaching profession.
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