Systematic Cheating Found in Atlanta’s Public Schools

Over the past decade, the Atlanta public schools garnered significant acclaim for their steadily rising test scores.  But now, it appears that these successes were based on widespread, systematic cheating across at least 44 schools, which was finally uncovered by a state investigation.  The cheating was perpetrated by almost 200 of the district’s teachers and principals, 82 of whom have confessed.  The scandal was publicly announced by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who vowed, “There will be consequences.”  According to the New York Times, these consequences will almost certainly involve dismissals, and could possibly include criminal charges.

The person at the center of the controversy is former Superintendant Beverly Hall, who announced last November that she would be leaving her job in June.  In her farewell address last month, she admitted for the first time that some wrongdoing had occurred, but did not blame herself.  She was named Superintendant of the Year in 2009, and before the results of the state investigation was regarded as one of the best in her profession, especially when it came to administering inner city schools.

Teachers were reportedly found to be erasing and changing tests after the students had submitted their answers.  The intense focus on test scores, as well as unrealistic expectations, is already being cited as a primary incentive for teachers and administrators to resort to cheating.  Disturbingly, however, the state investigation found a culture of retaliation and silencing within the schools.  According to the Christian Science Monitor, the district repeatedly failed to investigate allegations that cheating was happening, and employees who complained were simply labeled as “disgruntled.”  One principal went so far as to open an ethics investigation against a whistleblower.

The cheating scandal in Atlanta is dramatic, but it’s not uncommon.  The fact that teacher cheating isn’t out of the ordinary raises questions about the efficacy of rewarding teachers and schools for high test scores, and punishing them when the scores fall.  In Atlanta, one worry is that many students may have been passed to the next grade with falsified test scores, even if they were not ready to move on.  Understandably, this raises questions about how to measure a school or teacher’s success.

“It becomes a question of what it means to be educated,” said Maria Pease, a former teacher and parent of an Atlanta high school student. “Does it mean the highest test score? I would argue it does not. This is part and parcel of a general dysfunction that isn’t particular to Atlanta public schools.”

Robert Schaffer of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing agreed that high-stakes testing is not the best way to measure improvement.  ”When test scores are all that matter, some educators feel pressured to get the scores they need by hook or by crook,” he said. “The higher the stakes, the greater the incentive to manipulate, to cheat.”

The news out of Atlanta isn’t good, but perhaps it will be a wake-up call.  Smaller infractions like these occur in public schools throughout the United States.  Artificially high test scores might look good for a school district, but ultimately they do an enormous disservice to the students who rely on their teachers to help them learn, not make them look as they are learning.  If the emphasis on test scores is responsible for teachers’ desperation to make it seem as though they are teaching to the test, then maybe we should rethink the way we measure educational success.

Photo from editorb via flickr


Carole R.
Carole R6 years ago

This is really a disgrace. It almost makes me ashamed to be in education.

Bette M.
Bette M6 years ago

This all they know......Know how to get over
on people & life with cheating & lying.

Plant & protect Danny's trees for life.
Trees are the lungs of the earth.

jane richmond
jane richmond6 years ago

More widespread than you think

Jane Warren
Jane Warren6 years ago

The teachers changing students' answers is really teaching the students that it OK to do whatever it takes to succeed - cheat, lie, steal, etc.

Sheri P.
Sheri P6 years ago

It's "not uncommon"? WOW! There HAS to be a better way to help kids LEARN and keep teachers accountable.

Bette M.
Bette M6 years ago

Ann P. wrote:
"We really need to rethink how we are teaching teachers to teach and what we can do to identify and support the best teachers and teaching practices thru mentoring and "effective" continuing education, as well as, early identification of students strengths and weaknesses and working with them."
Teachers also need to advise/tell parents what they can & must do to help their chiildren do better in school. Far to many(young parents) have grown up with the attitude it's the teachers job to teach.

Not soooooooo!
he first line of defense in learning is teach all you can before your child ever enters the school system. There are very basic subjects & techniques to teaching any parent can do for a few minutes everyday from the moment of birth up & until kindergarden. It is all about mental ammuntion & the ability to compete with confidence.

Plant & protect Danny's trees for life.
Trees are the lungs of the earth.........

Read more:

Ann P.
A P6 years ago

Why should this be shocking? We want to pay teacher according to how well their students do on the tests. It does give a perverse incentive to cheat. We really need to rethink how we are teaching teachers to teach and what we can do to identify and support the best teachers and teaching practices thru mentoring and "effective" continuing education, as well as, early identification of students strengths and weaknesses and working with them.

Mary H.
Mary H.6 years ago

Parents should be given more control. Schools are increasingly being controlled by bureaus far removed from the students. And how can they be accountable? Only by test scores. But if parents had a significant say, they wouldn't have to justify their decisions to taxpayers or bureaucrats; they could just make them.

One way to do that is to allow more education options. I'm suggesting a tax credit sufficient for tuition at many private schools. It could be less than what it costs the public school to educate each child. Being a tax credit and not a voucher, it could be used for religious schools, too, since the government would be giving the parents their own money back.

Teachers' unions scream at such a suggestion, but let's remember that GOOD teachers will be able to find jobs in private schools if enough kids leave to cause the public schools to downsize.

I've got nothing against public schools per se, but they have a virtual monopoly and are the focus of much political attention. These make them very difficult to change. Also, the results are difficult to measure. Percent graduated? You can increase that by dumbing down the requirements.

Akin Adelakun
Akin Adelakun6 years ago

Thank you for sharing

Rene S.
Rene S6 years ago

Just curious -- we have a pretty varied and vocal group of readers here, and it's apparent from most of the comments that people agree standardized tests aren't the ONLY way to measure things. OK, so here's the deal -- There are 3 partners in the success of any student: the student, the school, and the student's family.

1. Since so many families are torn apart and/or hardly a healthy, supportive environment for the student, does anyone have any suggestions about what we could do to help the students who don't have family support, or to hold families accountable for finding support if they can't provide it themselves?

2. *How* do you propose that we hold students accountable?

3. There are good administrations and lousy ones, good teachers and lousy ones, just as there are good workers and lousy ones in every field of work. (I personally have had teachers who honestly couldn't speak a coherent sentence, and others who were so consumed with whatever their personal thing was that they were doing at their desk that nothing got taught. There are cases that need to be identified and addressed - the question is HOW to identify them?) If standardized tests aren't the ONLY way to measure where things are going, what are other ways that should be added to provide a more complete picture?

Maybe we can come up with some great ideas here that can become the basis for some needed, positive changes, rather than just arguing with one another.