Former Atlanta Educators Jailed in Test Cheating Scandal

Kate Brumback, AP, April 2, 2015

A group of former Atlanta educators convicted in a test cheating scandal were locked up in jail Thursday as they await sentences that could send them to prison for years.

In one of the nation’s largest cheating scandals of its kind, the 11 defendants were convicted Wednesday of racketeering for their roles in a scheme to inflate students’ scores on standardized exams.

They include teachers, a principal and other administrators, who were accused of falsifying test results to collect bonuses or keep their jobs in the 50,000-student Atlanta public school system. {snip}

The racketeering charges carry up to 20 years in prison. The convicted former educators are set to be sentenced later this month.

“This is a huge story and absolutely the biggest development in American education law since forever,” University of Georgia law professor Ron Carlson said. “It has to send a message to educators here and broadly across the nation. Playing with student test scores is very, very dangerous business.”

A state investigation found that as far back as 2005, educators fed answers to students or erased and changed answers on tests after they were turned in. Evidence of cheating was found in 44 schools with nearly 180 educators involved, and teachers who tried to report it were threatened with retaliation.

Similar cheating scandals have erupted in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Nevada and other public school systems around the country in recent years, as officials link scores to school funding and staff bonuses and vow to close schools that perform poorly.

Thirty-five Atlanta educators in all were indicted in 2013 on charges including racketeering, making false statements and theft. Many pleaded guilty, and some testified at the trial.

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Over objections from the defendants’ attorneys, Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter ordered all but one of those convicted immediately jailed while they await sentencing. They were led out of court in handcuffs.

“They are convicted felons as far as I’m concerned,” Baxter said, later adding, “They have made their bed and they’re going to have to lie in it.”

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Prosecutors said the 12 on trial were looking out for themselves rather than the children’s education. Defense attorneys accused prosecutors of overreaching in charging the educators under racketeering laws usually employed against organized crime.

The attorneys for some of the defendants said they will appeal.

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