At least 178 teachers and principals in Atlanta Public Schools cheated to raise student scores on high-stakes standardized tests, according to a report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. 82 have confessed.
One of the most troubling aspects of the Atlanta cheating scandal, says the report, is that the district repeatedly refused to properly investigate or take responsibility for the cheating. Moreover, the central office told some principals not to cooperate with investigators. In one case, an administrator instructed employees to tell investigators to “go to hell.” When teachers tried to alert authorities, they were labeled “disgruntled.” One principal opened an ethics investigation against a whistle-blower.
In February 2009, Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall was named 2009 Superintendent of the Year in San Francisco. Ms. Hall stepped down from her post on June 30, days before the release of a report that documented widespread cheating by teachers and administrators in the 55,000-student Atlanta Public School District.
Award-winning gains by Atlanta students were based on widespread cheating by 178 named teachers and principals, said Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday. His office released a report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations that names 178 teachers and principals – 82 of whom confessed – in what’s likely the biggest cheating scandal in US history.
This appears to be the largest of dozens of major cheating scandals, unearthed across the country. The allegations point an ongoing problem for US education, which has developed an ever-increasing dependence on standardized tests.
The report on the Atlantic Public Schools, released Tuesday, indicates a “widespread” conspiracy by teachers, principals and administrators to fix answers on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT), punish whistle-blowers, and hide improprieties.
It “confirms our worst fears,” says Mayor Kasim Reed. “There is no doubt that systemic cheating occurred on a widespread basis in the school system.” The news is “absolutely devastating,” said Brenda Muhammad, chairwoman of the Atlanta school board. “It’s our children. You just don’t cheat children.”
On its face, the investigation tarnishes the 12-year tenure of Superintendent Beverly Hall, who was named US Superintendent of the Year in 2009 largely because of the school system’s reported gains – especially in inner-city schools. She has not been directly implicated, but investigators said she likely knew, or should have known, what was going on. In her farewell address to teachers in June, Hall for the first time acknowledged wrongdoing in the district, but blamed other administrators.
The Atlanta cheating scandal also offers the first most comprehensive view yet into a growing number of teacher-cheating allegations across the US, reports of which reached a rate of two to three a week in June, says Robert Schaeffer, a spokesman for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which advocates against high-stakes testing.
It’s also a tacit indictment, critics say, of politicians putting all bets for improving education onto high-stakes tests that punish and reward students, teachers, and principals for test scores.
“When test scores are all that matter, some educators feel pressured to get the scores they need by hook or by crook,” says Mr. Schaeffer. “The higher the stakes, the greater the incentive to manipulate, to cheat.”
The 55,000-student Atlanta public school system rose in national prominence during the 2000s, as test scores steadily rose and the district received notice and funding from the Broad Foundation and the Gates Foundation.But behind that rise, the state found, were teachers and principals in 44 schools erasing and changing test answers.