Throughout the three-week trial of Tamara Cotman, prosecutors presented mountainous evidence of test cheating at Atlanta Public Schools.
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Timeline for APS cheating scandal
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution analyzes scores on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test and finds what appear to be unusual score changes at several area schools. Atlanta Public Schools teachers and others begin alleging extensive cheating. Superintendent Beverly Hall, a nationally known innovator who built her reputation on improved APS scores, dismisses the possibility of cheating. APS responds that it has no plans to investigate.
A computer analysis developed by the AJC flags schools with unusual changes in test scores. In the case of some schools, the odds against improvement by chance were greater than 1 billion-to-1. The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement calls for an erasure analysis on all CRCT answer sheets. Hall announces that national experts will review test scores at schools that recorded extraordinary improvements.
The state analysis flags 58 Atlanta schools for excessive erasures and orders APS to investigate. The AJC’s continuing investigation reports that the gain in test scores and graduation rates claimed by Hall are illusions. In the summer, the district’s appointed commission finds that widespread cheating was limited to 12 schools. Gov. Sonny Perdue orders his own investigation. Hall announces that she will retire the following summer.
State investigators gather evidence, interviewing scores of APS teachers, administrators and staff. In July, Perdue’s successor, Gov. Nathan Deal, releases the results — an 800-page report saying that 185 teachers and administrators cheated on the CRCT at 44 schools. Erroll Davis, a former chancellor of the University System of Georgia, takes over as superintendent with a vow that no one who cheated on tests will be allowed in front of Atlanta schoolchildren again, as APS pursues the process of firing teachers and administrators suspected of cheating,
APS officials tell implicated educators that they have one day to resign or face firing. In March, the Atlanta school district begins holding disciplinary tribunals for educators accused of cheating who wanted to appeal their dismissals. In the spring, the AJC investigative team reports that 196 districts throughout the U.S. exhibit suspicious patterns of test scores that, in Atlanta, indicated cheating. In December, the Atlanta school board votes 7-2 to renew Davis’ contract.
Of the 185 people implicated in the state investigative report, 23 educators have been reinstated and two people are still awaiting tribunal appeals. The rest either resigned, retired or lost appeals to keep their jobs. A Fulton County grand jury issued indictments in March against Hall and 34 others on charges of racketeering, theft by taking, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and false statements in connection with the cheating scandal. One of the defendants, former D.H. Stanton Elementary School principal Willie Davenport, died last week.
How we got the story
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first investigated improbable improvements on standardized tests in 2008 and then conducted a computer analysis of schools with unusual changes in test scores in 2009. Because of the AJC’s reporting, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement conducted an erasure analysis on all Criterion-Referenced Competency Test answer sheets statewide. A state investigation in 2011 found that 185 teachers and administrators in Atlanta Public Schools cheated on the CRCT at 44 schools. Nearly two years later, Fulton County prosecutors indicted 35 educators. Tamara Cotman, an area director, was one of the first to stand trial and was acquitted of Friday of a felony charge of influencing a witness.