Mike Klein Online

Atlanta Schools Black Eye: Report Claims Educators Cheated

This article was published by the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.

An independent investigation under the direction of a blue ribbon commission has cited 109 Atlanta Public School principals, assistant principals and others for alleged cheating on student standardized tests.  Cheating evidence was cited in 58 of Atlanta’s 84 public schools.

Investigators focused on 2009 tests that had abnormally high numbers of erasures and changed answers.  The most serious violations were identified in one dozen schools where 78 educators were cited, though not by name because of possible legal action.  The panel did not have authority to impose discipline that could range from reprimands to loss of teaching license.

The panel also recommended any plan “for addressing testing irregularities that have occurred” should include a referral option to the Fulton County District Attorney’s office “as appropriate.”  That would appear to open the door to potential criminal investigation of alleged test cheaters.  Thirty-eighty administrators were among 109 persons cited by the commission.

The actual next steps are unclear.  Late Monday the Atlanta Board of Education voted 5-4 to not accept the report because several board members said they wanted more time to study it.  The school board did transmit findings to state officials.  Atlanta Public Schools lawyers will decide how to proceed with allegations against individual personnel.

The panel found no evidence that Superintendent Beverly Hall or other APS senior staff knew about or condoned changing test answers.  APS has some 47,000 students.  Hall became Superintendent in 1999 after an education career primarily in New York.  She has often been credited with establishing a culture to begin revival of Atlanta’s public schools.

A statement from Hall said, “We trust the media and public will focus on the main findings of the report that there is no orchestrated cheating in Atlanta Public Schools. If we are guilty of anything, we are guilty of demanding high standards of our students, teachers and principals – and unfortunately in any large organization, a few people may cheat to try to meet those demands.  We will ferret them out and the consequences will be severe.”

The focus on possible standardized test score cheating began in December 2008 when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published articles about Atlanta schools and others statewide that posted unusual, and some said improbable, improvements in standardized test scores.

The mandatory Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competency Test measures reading and math progress.   Exams are given to first-through-eighth graders to determine whether schools are meeting requirements outlined in the federal government’s No Child Left Behind law.

In March 2010 the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement announced that 191 statewide schools would have their 2009 tests reviewed.  A blue ribbon commission created to investigate Atlanta hired the KPMG accounting firm and Caveon Test Security.

During the next five months interviews were conducted with 280 administrators and teachers, plus one dozen parents and students.  No educators admitted any wrongdoing.  Almost 50,000 e-mails written by 70 persons were studied.   Additional leads came from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement and two anonymous telephone hotlines.

The commission summary noted that 2010 standardized test scores at 33 targeted schools “demonstrated a significant decline” compared to the previous year at the same schools.  The commission asked that the district “conduct a further in-depth assessment in these schools.”

Mike Klein writes about education and other issues as Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

August 4, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , ,

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