Altered test scores years ago altered lives, stained Atlanta schools

Beverly Hall burnished her reputation as the make-no-excuses superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools using rapidly rising test scores from schools in the district’s poorest neighborhoods.

There was one big problem: The test results were fake.

In 2008, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported suspicious scores on the state’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, and the AJC bolstered its work with further analysis of statistically improbable gains.

Questions were met with denials and an unwillingness by APS officials to investigate.

The state flagged potential cheating at 58 Atlanta schools, and Gov. Sonny Perdue ordered an investigation to uncover the truth.

How are remediation efforts going to help APS cheating victms? Read the story here.

After reviewing more than 800,000 documents and conducting thousands of interviews, investigators reported they confirmed cheating in 44 schools. They named 178 educators as participants, and more than 80 confessed.

During the ensuing trial, the longest in Georgia history, educators described meeting privately to correct test answers. A former reading coach told how a principal would divert the testing coordinator with lunch so teachers could begin changing answers in order for the school to meet its testing goals.

Prosecutors said there were 256,779 wrong-to-right erasures on 2009 tests. The odds of that: one in a quadrillion, a preposterous number trailed by 15 zeros.

It was not a fluke, but felons.

They changed answers to meet increased expectations and along the way received bonuses and raises based on fake scores.

Those telltale marks would help convict 11 former educators of racketeering. Nine are still fighting the convictions. Two took their cases unsuccessfully to the Georgia Court of Appeals and have petitioned the state supreme court to review that decision. Seven others have filed preliminary motions for a new trial in Fulton County Superior Court.

Another 21 pleaded guilty to lesser charges such as obstruction and malfeasance.

The conspiracy gouged a crater-size hole that APS is still trying to repair.

It ruined the vaunted reputation of Hall, who also faced charges but died before she went to trial.

It robbed students of support they would have received if inflated test scores had not hidden their academic struggles.

“These kids, some of them couldn’t read, but yet on the test they were like star students,” said retired Judge Jerry Baxter, who presided over the dramatic, lengthy trial. “They were the most vulnerable, and therefore probably needed the best chance to try to claw their way out of there.”

Jury foreman George Little said the cheating hurt some of the city’s “most disenfranchised.”

“These kids were denied a right that they had by law,” he said.


The AJC's Vanessa McCray keeps you updated on the latest happenings in the Atlanta Public Schools system. You'll find more on, including these stories:

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