A number of educators in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal turned themselves in to the Fulton County Jail this week, following an indictment filed in the Fulton Superior Court on March 29.
The grand jury indicted 35 educators, including a former Newton County School System administrator, for conspiring to cheat on state standardized tests.
The 90-page indictment, which was the first indictment delivered, listed 65 counts against the 35 educators, which included charges of racketeering, false statements and writings, theft by taking, influencing witnesses and false swearing.
As the cheating scandal continues to unravel, with educators posting bond and reporting to jail, some people may wonder just how and when the widely-publicized indignity started and how the cheating scandal case has spread statewide over the years, as standardized test scores at every school system in the state, including Newton County’s, have been investigated.
Suspicions in the beginning
The APS cheating scandal came to light after investigative reporters with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed signs of cheating on tests at a number of schools in the APS school system in 2008.
According to the AJC, reporter’s analyzed scores on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, which is a comprehensive test taken by first through eighth-graders. If passed, it allows students to move up to the next grade level. The Atlanta newspaper found odd changes in tests scores at several schools in the APS school system and reported its findings in a series of articles.
During this time, teachers and others in the APS school system alleged that there was cheating going on in the school system. But those allegations were said to have been swept under the rug by former APS Superintendent Beverly Hall and other APS officials, who had no plans to investigate, according to the AJC.
Rumors and accusations of cheating spiraled into a hardcore investigation by the AJC in 2008. The indictment released last Friday showed that Christopher Waller, a former assistant principal at Cousins Middle School here in Newton County and one of the key players in the cheating scandal, had a hand in the cheating from the beginning.
Acts of racketeering, false statements, theft by taking
According to the indictment, Waller, who was the principal for Parks Middle School in Atlanta, pressured several teachers at the school to cheat on the CRCT as early as 2006. He, along with Gregory Reid, an assistant principal at the school, and Sandra Ward, the instructional facilitator at Parks Middle, allegedly made and used false documents and writings to falsify students’ answer sheets on the 2006 CRCT in April 2006, which constituted the act of false statements and writings.
There were also complaints made to top administrators in 2005 that Waller sexually harassed teachers, according to the indictment. However, the indictment concluded that those complaints were ignored along with the cheating allegations.
Between May and December of 2006, the exact dates being unknown, the indictment said Hall and Michael Pitts, the executive director of SRT-2 for APS (one of four School Reform Teams in the APS system that provided faster services to schools and parents), both received complaints that Waller was pressuring teachers to cheat.
Hall and Pitts, according to the indictment, also had knowledge of a report done by Reginald Dukes, a private investigator hired by the APS system, which found cheating did occur on the Georgia Eighth Grade Writing Assessment.
But, according to the indictment, Hall and Pitts failed to report these findings or the complaints about Waller to the Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Professional Standards Commission, which constituted acts of racketeering.
The indictment also said that between April 2006 and December 2006, Hall, Waller, Reid and Ward all received monetary bonuses from the APS, based on the falsified tests results on the 2006 CRCT results for Parks Middle, which resulted in the charges of theft by taking.
Cheating on the standardized tests continued over the years, occurring from 2006 through 2010, according to the indictment. A number of school officials and teachers at several other schools in the APS system participated in the act, covering up their scheme, gaining accolades and cash bonuses for the false success of improving test scores at their select schools. Forty-four of the 56 Atlanta Public Schools investigated by the state were found to have teachers who erased incorrect answers on state standardized tests.
Cheating investigation launched statewide
In 2009, the AJC developed a computer analysis, which flagged a number of schools with unusual test score changes on the CRCT, and as a result, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement called for an erasure analysis on CRCT answer sheets statewide.
After the investigation, it was announced in early 2010 that around 180 educators in the state were accused of cheating. All Newton County schools were cleared of any wrongdoing after the state analysis.
The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement had every 2009 CRCT answer sheet reviewed and, from that, compiled a list of 74 schools with the highest number of classrooms with questionable erasures from wrong to right. Newton County schools were not on that list.
The analysis focused on the number of wrong answers that had been erased and changed to right answers on each individual student answer sheet in reading, language arts and mathematics.
There were nine classrooms initially flagged in the search, amounting to 0.9 percent of school classrooms in the system, with the highest percentage of classes flagged at Clements Middle School with 2.90 percent of classes flagged. Other schools with flagged classes were Heard-Mixon, East Newton, Middle Ridge, Rocky Plains, West Newton and South Salem elementary schools and Veterans Memorial and Cousins middle schools. However, all of the schools were cleared of any wrongdoing.
Eighty percent of the state’s elementary and middle schools fell into the “clear” category, meaning less than 6 percent of the classes in the school were flagged, Newton County’s school were among these, with a classroom flag range between 0 and 2.9 percent.
After the state investigation, the APS school system was ordered to investigate after 58 schools were flagged for possible cheating, according to the AJC. The APS district commission found cheating at 12 of its schools. During this time former Governor Sonny Perdue ordered his own investigation.
Superintendent Hall, also during this time in 2010, announced she would retire the following summer, according to reports.
State investigators release results, educators dismissed, indicted
State investigators, in 2011, gathered evidence and interviewed a number of APS teachers, administrators and faculty. Gov. Nathan Deal released an 800-page report that found that almost 200 educators for APS cheated on the CRCT at 44 schools. APS then began the process of firing teachers and administrators suspected of cheating. Errol Davis, former chancellor of the University System of Georgia, took over as APS school superintendent.
In 2012, educators suspected of cheating were given one day to resign or face firing. The district then began to hold disciplinary tribunals for educators accused in the cheating scandal who wanted to appeal their dismissals, according to the AJC.
About 150 educators resigned, retired or lost their appeals to keep their jobs; 21 educators were reinstated; and three people are still waiting for their tribunal appeals, the AJC reports.
In March, Hall and 34 educators were indicted by the grand jury in connection to the cheating scandal. They now face charges of racketeering, theft by taking, influencing witnesses, false swearing and false statements and writings.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard set a Tuesday, April 2 deadline for the educators, to surrender at the jail. All but a handful of educators met the deadline to turn themselves in.