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Eleven Atlanta teachers and administrators have been found guilty in the major test cheating scandal... Former 'Superintendent of the Year' Beverly Hall died before the trial of her subordinates began....

Eleven of twelve Atlanta educators were convicted of racketeering after a lengthy trial following a state investigation that exposed massive cheating in Atlanta Public Schools under the administration of Beverly Hall. One of the defendants was acquitted. Twenty-one others who were indicted made plea bargains.

Former Atlanta Public Schools testing coordinator Donald Bullock was led to a holding cell after he was one of eleven defendants found guilty in the Atlanta test cheating scandal. The judge ordered most of the defendants jailed pending sentencing.
The justice for Atlanta came late, only after the Atlanta Journal Constitution pressed on with investigations into the cheating allegations for years. The AJC reports finally prompted the governor of Georgia to convene a major investigation, which resulted in report of more than 400 pages and the trials of those convicted on April 1, 2015.

The blame for the scandals rested clearly on (now deceased) former Atlanta Supt. Beverly Hall and on the "No Child Left Behind" law and its successor, "Race To The Top."

"Hall set rigorous accountability measures," the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported, "stronger than federal objectives of the No Child Left Behind law, and demanded ever increasing test scores. As yearly scores improved, she garnered state and national accolades, but the governors report says teachers suffered under the unrealistic goals, and the system was made ripe for cheating by severe consequences meted out for failure, including firings, demotions and public humiliation."

The stories were national news...

"On their eighth day of deliberations, the jurors convicted 11 of the 12 [remaining] defendants of racketeering, a felony that carries up to 20 years in prison," The New York Times reported. "Many of the defendants a mixture of Atlanta public school teachers, testing coordinators and administrators were also convicted of other charges, such as making false statements, that could add years to their sentences." The defendants were taken to jail immediately after the verdict, pending sentencing.

Atlanta wasn't the only school district where pushy bosses pushed subordinates into unusual compromises, but the investigations were the most thorough.

Former Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall was accused of rewarding principals and teachers who got high scores -- and punishing those who could not raise scores -- died a few weeks before the trail or she would have also been on trial. Is it possible to compare the Atlanta cheating scandals under Beverly Hall with those in Washington, D.C., under Michelle Rhee. In Washington, D.C., an investigation by USA Today uncovered widespread cheating, as well as evidence of many erasures changing answers from wrong to right.

In the Atlanta case, the Governor of Georgia put together a serious investigative team, breaking open the scandal after expenses in excess of a million dollar. In Washington, D.C., the investigation was done as best can be done by the investigative team of a newspaper, but without the powers of government also behind the accountability demands, no criminal indictments were forthcoming. The cheating exposed by USA Today happened during Michelle Rhee's tenure in office and bore the same indicators as those in Atlanta, but Rhee was never held accountable, and her second-in-command, Kaya Henderson, was allowed to take over the D.C. schools.

"The bottom line is don't cheat and don't permit students to cheat. Period," says Diane Ravitch, historian and blogger. "The message from Atlanta: Don't cheat. Never. Don't erase answers. Don't do anything to violate professional ethics, no matter how you may be threatened or offered bribes (merit pay, bonuses) by higher-ups." The trouble is that pressures on principals and teachers can be very great where union protections don't really exist (as in Atlanta) or have become corrupted because of the corruption of the local union leadership (as in Washington, D.C.). Teachers and principals can only stand up to demands for cheating when they have outside support, including the support of parents who demand an end to the rampages of high-stakes testing and a return to sanity in public education.

ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION COVERAGE HERE:

Eleven former teachers and administrators guilty in cheating trial, 2:41 p.m. Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Guilty, Judge Jerry Baxter read the jurys verdicts for conspiracy for 11 of the 12 defendants in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial.

The conspiracy charge was the most serious and could bring sentences up to 20 years.

Only one defendant, Dessa Curb, walked away with no conviction on any charge.

Curb was sobbing out of joy. I knew I was innocent and I knew God had my back, she said.

She was going to head home and go to church tonight. She has retired from teaching but will continue to volunteer in the schools.

The jury returned a mix of guiltys and not guiltys on the remaining felony charges, such as making false statements, for the other 11. They will be sentenced in the next two weeks.

See charges and photos of the convicted teachers here.

The conspiracy verdicts bring a definitive conclusion to a seven-month trial and years of allegations that teachers and administrators conducted and covered up widespread cheating in Atlanta Public Schools.

The 11 convicted former teachers and administrators 21 others had already pleaded guilty to lesser charges were led out in handcuffs and face long sentences. The other felony charges could each bring five to 10 years in prison for each count.

As the first guilty verdicts were read the defendants and defense attorneys stood. Their faces fell as they heard the guilty verdicts roll.

The convictions close a long, troubling period that tarnished the image of the school system and the city as educators and administrators chose their careers and bonuses over doing right by the children they taught.

Investigators said the educators worked together, sometimes holding erasure parties or dinners, sometimes working alone, to correct answers on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. The cheating robbed students, who were passed up to the next grade without being prepared to succeed, and caused the schools to miss out on grants that could have provided tutoring or other help for those who were failing.

The investigation revealed student test sheets that had inordinate numbers of erasures changed to correct answers. One expert testified that the odds that students in one classroom would have so many wrong-to-right erasures without some kind of intervention was one in 284 septillion, 284 followed by 21 zeros.

The scandal, one of the most notorious to strike a U.S. school district, was uncovered by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2008, when it found improbably improved scores on on the tests. After a number of newspapers articles, the governor called for a special investigation, in spite of protestations and coverups by Atlanta school leaders including Hall. She was not tried, as she was suffering from breast cancer. Hall died March 2, her attorneys still claiming her innocence.

The governors 413-page investigation report, released in July 2011, detailed a system that had a wonderful goal in mind to improve student performance and learning in even the poorest schools in the district, with no excuses accepted for failure. But it was derailed by the way it was set up.

Hall set rigorous accountability measures, stronger than federal objectives of the No Child Left Behind law, and demanded ever increasing test scores. As yearly scores improved, she garnered state and national accolades, but the governors report says teachers suffered under the unrealistic goals, and the system was made ripe for cheating by severe consequences meted out for failure, including firings, demotions and public humiliation.

As allegations of cheating began popping up the administration failed to recognize or seriously investigate them and instead retaliated against those who were reporting the problems.

NEW YORK TIMES REPORTED THE STORY ON THE WEB ON APRIL 1, 2015 AND IN ITS PRINT EDITIONS OF APRIL 2, 2015...

ATLANTA In a dramatic conclusion to what has been described as the largest cheating scandal in the nations history, a jury here on Wednesday convicted 11 educators for their roles in a standardized test cheating scandal that tarnished a major school districts reputation and raised broader questions about the role of high-stakes testing in American schools.

On their eighth day of deliberations, the jurors convicted 11 of the 12 defendants of racketeering, a felony that carries up to 20 years in prison. Many of the defendants a mixture of Atlanta public school teachers, testing coordinators and administrators were also convicted of other charges, such as making false statements, that could add years to their sentences.

Judge Jerry W. Baxter of Fulton County Superior Court ordered most of the educators jailed immediately, and they were led from the courtroom in handcuffs. Judge Baxter, who presided over a trial that began with opening statements more than six months ago, will begin sentencing hearings next week.

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 Atlantas 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 districts 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.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story

Dr. Hall, who died on March 2, insisted that she had done nothing wrong and that her approach to education, which emphasized data, was not to blame. I cant accept that theres a culture of cheating, Dr. Hall said in an interview in 2011. What these 178 are accused of is horrific, but we have over 3,000 teachers.

But a Fulton County grand jury later accused her and 34 other district employees of being complicit in the cheating. Twenty-one of the educators reached plea agreements; two defendants, including Dr. Hall, died before they could stand trial.

But 12 defendants chose to go before a jury. Testimony did not conclude until the end of February, and jurors began their deliberations on March 19.

It was a gamble. Judge Baxter warned during a plea hearing in 2014 that there would be severe consequences for any defendant who was convicted at trial. The gamble paid off for a single defendant, Dessa Curb, a former elementary school teacher who was acquitted on Wednesday.

Im thankful to God that it turned out well for me, but Im very upset about the others, Ms. Curb said outside the courtroom.

Defense lawyers, some of whom were clearly angered by Judge Baxters decision to jail the educators on Wednesday, immediately began planning appeals and said they were stunned by the verdicts.

I respect the jury, but I believe they got it wrong, said Robert G. Rubin, who represented Dana Evans, a former principal. He described Ms. Evans as shocked and devastated.

We certainly talked about the possibility that this would happen, he said. I dont think either one of us believed it would actually happen.

Just as the defendants took a risk by standing trial, Mr. Howard had made a bet of his own when he decided to prosecute educators under a law more frequently used against organized crime figures. During three days of closing arguments last month, defense lawyers often said that Mr. Howards office had overreached.

And on Wednesday, even as Mr. Howard received some vindication, questions persisted about whether he should have devoted such extraordinary attention to the case.

The jury has made a determination, and in some respects, that affirms what the prosecution has done in this case, said William H. Thomas, a former federal prosecutor here. For me, the real question is: Was the victory worth the candle? Have they killed a fly with the proverbial sledgehammer?

The trial riveted Atlantans television and radio stations interrupted programming on Wednesday afternoon to broadcast the courtroom scene and the citys school board said in a statement that the verdict capped a sad and tragic chapter for Atlanta Public Schools.

The district, which has more than 50,000 students, has in recent years created a hotline for ethics complaints to be made anonymously, ended bonuses connected to test scores and replaced employees throughout the system. A new superintendent was installed last summer.

Challenges remain, for sure, but we are making progress every day, and there is great reason to be optimistic, the boards statement said.

The case unfolded at a time of pushback against what some see as the excesses of standardized testing. While the Atlanta scandal fueled some criticism, those who oppose testing also argue that the exams force teachers to narrow their lessons and may not represent what students learn. Coming amid a political groundswell against academic standards known as the Common Core, the scandal was just one 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.

But inside the Fulton County Courthouse on Wednesday afternoon, the issues of testing were decidedly more local and immediate.

I dont like to send anybody to jail, Judge Baxter said after he ordered that the educators be detained until sentencing. Its not one of the things I get a kick out of. But they have made their bed, and theyre going to have to lie in it, and it starts today.

[Richard Prez-Pea and Motoko Rich contributed reporting from New York. A version of this article appears in print on April 2, 2015, on page A12 of the New York edition with the headline: Atlanta Educators Are Convicted of Racketeering.]



Comments:

April 2, 2015 at 11:36 AM

By: Manny Bermudez

Grade an Attendance Cheating

Cheating is happening in public schools in many places. I hope that those teachers and administrators who are cheating these kids out of a fair an equal education in Chicago Public Schools also are held accountable for their actions. I cant understand how some of these individuals could live with themselves, knowing that they have been cheating these kids for years. I blew the whistle on the Benito Juarez administration and others who have been fixing grades and school attendance. I have always said, When you are aware of Illegalities transpiring and do nothing about it, you are almost as guilty as the person doing it. The administration at Benito Juarez Academy did not do this alone; they had support from the PPLC, LSC and a small group of teachers. Passing failing students has become the norm rather than the exception. No longer do the administrators and educators involved care if they are actually learning. The true victims are the students - the years they spent in high school can never be revisited. Those teachers involved at Benito Juarez who believe that they are doing the right thing and feel that they have done nothing wrong are the ones who have to live with themselves. Students trusted them as educators and they have betrayed their trust. The benchmark grading system at Benito Juarez was set up for one purpose only: to inflate the passing rate. Benito Juarez has some great teachers; however it is those few who are ruining the image of the school. For many years rumors from the administration and their cronies have been spreading, Manny is hurting the image of the school, Manny is trying to shut down the school, Manny is going to hurt or school enrollment, etc. I have heard this repeatedly. The truth is that I love the school, and that is why I am fighting diligently to make things right. Why would I want to hurt a school that my mother in law help built? Why would I want to hurt the only high school in the Pilsen Location? The only ones hurting are the students; they are being deprived of an education.

April 2, 2015 at 1:00 PM

By: jabbar eggleston

Integrity needs to be put back in education

Absolutely! Great post Mr. Bermudez. This issue is more widespread than many people realize, and this injustice has to stop. When you put your paycheck above the livelihood and needs of others to cover up the injustice that plagues our school systems you should be ashamed. If teachers and administrators can't be ethical I don't know who can. Thank you Mr. Bermudez for standing up for those who don't have a voice!

April 2, 2015 at 11:19 PM

By: Yolanda Munoz

Grade and Attendance Cheating

Well said Manny. I couldn't have said it better myself! I also agree with you

Mr. Eggleston, integrity does need to be back into our educational system. I would not be able to look in the mirror knowing that I was responsible for depriving these students of a good education. Money is not everything in life especially at the cost of others. The image of the school? How about the education of these students? Don't they deserve the best?

As for me there is life after Juarez, I miss the students and some teachers. I loved working there but I guess I was too ethical. I can't change, when I see something wrong I have this need to do something about it. I always said I do not fear any administrator for the only one I fear is my God, for He is the only one who will judge me. So yes, thank you Manny for standing up. I'm in good company. Great article, justice was served!

April 4, 2015 at 9:33 AM

By: Kimberly Goldbaum

ATL Cheating Scandal

The Atlanta Cheaters should be censured. Their licenses should be withdrawn. Their ability to teach or administer in the public school setting should be curtailed. They should pay back the money they won plus fines. They should note their cynicism of students rather than of a suspect system, for which they thought they should lie. They should be ashamed that they cost honest teachers and whistle blowers their jobs, and the APS should restore all whistle blowers to their jobs.

But jail isn't where the ATL 11 should be. It is the APS and its administrators which enforce high stakes accountability on others for problems of systemic design. The children are being robbed of time studying for, practicing, and completing tests that are based on arbitrary constructs (sometimes not even sound psychological or scientific models). THAT's what's robbing the children. The second robber: every public school system that pours millions into testing, when instead, restorative justice program, movement, dance, swimming, art, drama, 4-H, vocational, special education allowed to be done properly, etc., should be invested in as public services, not private contracts. This country has to rededicate itself to the whole child, not the whole buck. Turning teachers into mercenaries was predicted during this whole turn into high-stakes score accountability in the 1990s, and our government has made it worse with NCLB and RTT.

The point is that the whole testing racket misleads the public away from real education straight into prison. We have a system upon which the latest publishing vendors and venture capitalists continue selling the sort-and-port swindle of using scores to tell people that they are bad teachers and inadequate students. Testing is not about reparation. It's about keeping the economy going with a continuous venue for remedy, which doesn't serve the real problem: poverty and want among those who are tested.

First Amendment right here, folks.

April 5, 2015 at 2:15 AM

By: Theresa D. Daniels

Cheating teachers really the problem?

The real problem of high stakes over-testing is not a few teachers cheating. In that regard, f you have things stolen from you, are you a thief if you try to steal some of them back? Not a perfect parallel to the "cheating on tests" situation, so--Please reread Kim Goldbaum's comment above mine. What she said.

April 10, 2015 at 11:47 PM

By: Rose moore

Teachers not doing the right thing.

If everybody particular teachers whose job is to educate students, read and obeyed the Bible, will have no fear of the police. Neither will the oppressors choose to oppress their fellow colleagues into doing the wrong thing to keep their jobs, and obey man rather than God whose name is Psalms 83:18. Otherwise,man will continue to be dominated by unnecessary man to his fellow man's injury. Every person who considers himself to be smart will also read Galatians 6:7, and 8.

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