ATLANTA (AP) — Former Atlanta schools Superintendent Beverly Hall said Wednesday that she "deeply" regrets not doing more to prevent cheating during her nearly 12 years in charge of the district.
In a column in trade publication Education Week, Hall said she should have had more test security to help prevent what state investigators said was widespread cheating in nearly half of the district's 100 schools as far back as 2001. But Hall defended standardized testing, which has come under scrutiny after cheating scandals erupted in Atlanta and other urban districts.
The cheating scandal is "awful" but is not a reason to question testing of students or holding teachers accountable for scores, she wrote.
"There is no excuse for cheating, and I deeply regret that I did not do more to prevent it," Hall said. "The challenge now, even as law-enforcement agencies go about their business, is to learn from all of this and ensure that our nation's schools are improved by it — because the problem of cheating is not unique to Atlanta."
Investigations of test tampering and cheating are ongoing in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, among other districts. Experts say the Atlanta scandal has led to other school districts examining their testing gains to determine if the scores are legitimate.
Georgia investigators found the Hall either knew or should have known about the cheating in the 50,000-student district. Her attorney, Richard Deane, has denied those allegations.
Deane did not immediately return a request for comment from The Associated Press on Wednesday. Atlanta schools spokesman Keith Bromery declined comment.
Hall retired from Atlanta schools just days before state investigators released a scathing report implicating nearly 180 educators in the scandal. Educators accused in the probe said they were under immense pressure to improve students' scores by any means possible amid a culture of "fear and retaliation," investigators said.
Educators, who said they were either directed to cheat by superiors or felt they had no other option, huddled in back rooms at night erasing wrong answers and filling in correct ones or led students to choose correct answers through voice inflection, investigators found. Some seated students next to their higher-performing classmates so they could copy answers.
Teachers who reported the cheating to administrators were punished or fired, investigators found.
Hall's column is the second time she's written publicly about the cheating scandal since her retirement June 30. Just days after the July 5 state investigation was released, Hall — who has largely kept quiet about the investigation because she could face criminal charges — apologized to the people of Atlanta in an op-ed piece in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
But she has stopped short of taking responsibility for the cheating, saying she thought she put enough measures in place to prevent such behavior.
She wrote in Wednesday's column that the cheating scandal should not overshadow the legitimate gains made by Atlanta students since more testing security was put in place last year. Hall said under the "strictest testing conditions," about 80 percent of students in most grades performed at acceptable levels.
That's compared to 2000, when less than half of fourth-graders, for example, passed muster on standardized tests.
"Those dramatic increases are not the result of score manipulation," Hall said. "They are the result of the hard work of turning around a struggling school system."