July 7 2011

Atlanta Public Schools Cheat Students

Lori Drummer

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R) this week released a report on the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s probe into allegations that the Atlanta Public School (APS) system engaged in systemic cheating on the Criterion-Reference Competency Test (CRCT), the state test administered to public school students throughout Georgia.  The report’s findings reveal an appalling level of corruption within the Atlanta public schools.  

The report details evidence of cheating in 44 of the 56 schools in APS – that’s 78.6 percent of the schools in Atlanta.  Of those 56 schools where widespread cheating occurred, 38 principals were found to be “responsible for, or directly involved in” cheating.  In these cases, teachers and/or administrators erased and corrected mistakes on students’ answer sheets.  

When a failing child’s scores are fraudulently inflated, that child is thereby denied the remedial education to which they would otherwise be entitled.  So, in serving their own interests above all else, these teachers and administrators cheated not only the citizens who pay their salaries, but the very students they are charged with educating. 

The report determined that a staggering 178 teachers and principals in APS cheated, and of those 82 confessed to misconduct.  Six principals pled the Fifth Amendment, which, according to the report and civil law, is an implied admission of wrongdoing.  The report estimates that at least 36 principals “either were involved with, or should have known that, there was test cheating in their schools.” 

"APS is run like the mob," one teacher told investigators, saying she cheated because she feared retaliation if she didn’t.

While the cheating occurred as early as 2001, significant warnings of widespread cheating, reported as early as December 2005, were ignored by APS officials.  In addition to the CRCT cheating, the report found more improper conduct, including: several open-record-act violations; several instances of false statements; and instances of document destruction. 

APS Superintendent Beverly Hall officially retired in June.  She released a statement denying that she or the “vast majority” of Atlanta educators knew about the cheating.  It is unknown if she will be held accountable for what occurred under her leadership. 

One school leader shared her opinion on the impact of the scandal:

"Clearly, many of the educators in APS (and definitely the administrators) were not focused on actually educating these children because they’d figured out that they could get their precious, outlandish results much more easily by cheating.  So, if you assume that the cheating culture was firmly established by say 2005, then for at least the past six years, district and school leaders who clearly had no real ability or intention to educate these kids were busy making sure that their staffs produced post-hoc results.

"So, a kid who was in first grade in 2005 is now in middle school, and if he was at say Venetian Hills that whole time, who knows what gaps exist in his learning. No one was busy actually teaching him to read because they knew they could erase his way to a high score after the fact. A kid who was starting middle school that same year at Parks or Kennedy would just be graduating this year (or not) with none of the basic skills he needs to succeed in the job market or post-secondary schooling.  It would be literally impossible to calculate financially and otherwise the damage that may have been done to these kids.

"I think the lost focus on instruction, coupled with the explicit message to them and their families that their revered leaders had no faith that they could learn will cause untold damage to this community." 

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission, a state agency that polices state teaching credentials, will receive the names of nearly 180 Atlanta educators implicated and expects to start reviewing the cases in September.  The Interim Superintendent has pledged that none of those implicated will teach in APS again. 

As APS teachers and principals were cheating students out of their right to an individualized education, the Georgia Supreme Court cheated thousands of parents from fleeing the beleaguered school system and placing their children in charter schools.  In March, the Court struck down the state’s robust charter school law (more about this in a future post). 

The state of Georgia must significantly increase the educational options for children who are stuck in schools that put the reputation of adults before the educational needs of students.  No child should be required by law to attend a school like APS.

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