Alan Judd and Heather Vogell, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 21, 2011
Superintendent Beverly Hall ordered the destruction of investigative documents that detailed “systematic” cheating on standardized tests in the Atlanta Public Schools, according to a former high-ranking district official.
Hall also instructed subordinates to omit “adverse findings” from a new version of the report and then publicly cited the revised document in an aggressive rebuttal of the cheating allegations, the former official says.
When she protested, the former official says, her supervisor said the district had the right to “sanitize” the investigation and that “the matter was closed” because Hall “had directed that all other documents be destroyed.”
The inquiry’s conclusion coincides with Hall’s departure after 12 years as superintendent. Amid the cheating scandal, she announced last fall she would not seek an extension of her contract past its June 30 expiration.
Deerwood was among the schools that showed suspiciously large gains when the AJC analyzed the CRCT re-test in the summer of 2008. When the newspaper asked about the increased scores at Deerwood and another school, district officials said they saw no reason to investigate and were satisfied the gains were “valid and defensible.”
Questions about Deerwood surfaced again a few months later when a state examination launched in response to the newspaper’s questions found unusual numbers of wrong-to-right erasures on answer sheets for the school’s summer re-tests of students who had failed in the spring.
Within a month, Hall sent a letter to state officials saying that the district’s internal and external investigations found no cheating.
“The portion of that investigation focusing on the ‘cheating charge’ is completed and concludes that there is no evidence, no basis in fact, that someone actually altered students’ answers,” Hall’s letter said.
In a December 2010 interview with the AJC, Hall admitted the letter was incorrect. The district had not conducted an internal investigation, and the external inquiry–by Atlanta attorney Penn Payne–wasn’t completed until weeks after Hall sent the letter. Hall said her aides assured her the letter was accurate when she signed.