Grand Jury Indicts 35 in Georgia School Cheating Scandal

Chelsea J. Carter, CNN, March 29, 2013

In what has been described as one of the largest cheating scandals to hit the nation’s public education system, 35 Atlanta Public Schools educators and administrators were indicted Friday on charges of racketeering and corruption.

The indictment is the bookend to a story that was once touted as a model for the nation’s school districts after the district’s test scores dramatically improved in some of its toughest urban schools.

Among those indicted by a Fulton County, Georgia, grand jury was Beverly Hall, the former schools superintendent who gained national recognition in 2009 for turning around Atlanta’s school system.

“She was a full participant in that conspiracy,” Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told reporters during a news conference announcing the charges.

“Without her, this conspiracy could not have taken place, particularly in the degree in which it took place.”

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A state review determined that some cheating had occurred in more than half of the district’s elementary and middle schools. About 180 teachers were initially implicated in the scandal.

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Hall has denied any role in the cheating scandal. In 2011, she told The New York Times that her subordinates had allowed the cheating to occur, but denied she was involved.

Hall resigned from her position in 2011 following the state investigation, which lambasted her leadership and found widespread cheating in dozens of Atlanta schools.

The alleged cheating is believed to date back to early 2001, according to the indictment, when standardized testing scores began to turn around in the 50,000-student school district.

For at least a period of four years, between 2005 and 2009, test answers were altered, fabricated and falsely certified, the indictment said.

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By the time the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, as the standardized test is known, was administered in Atlanta Public Schools, “cheating was taking place in a majority of APS’s 83 elementary and middle schools.”

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According to the indictment, Hall placed unreasonable goals on educators and “protected and rewarded those who achieved targets by cheating. It also alleges she fired principals who failed to achieve goals and “ignored suspicious” test score gains throughout the school system.

In 2009, Hall was named the National Superintendent of the Year by the Schools Superintendents Association, which at the time said her “leadership has turned Atlanta into a model of urban school reform.”

But the indictment paints another picture of Hall, one of a superintendent with “a single-minded purpose, and that is to cheat,” Howard told reporters.

“For example, teachers who reported other teachers who cheated were terminated, while teachers who were caught cheating were only suspended,” the indictment alleges.

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Among those also indicted were four of Hall’s executive administrators, six principals, two assistant principals, six testing coordinators, 14 teachers, a school improvement specialist and a school secretary.

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Hall and the 34 others named in the indictment have been ordered to surrender to authorities by Tuesday, said Howard, the district attorney.

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