Evidence of cheating on state standardized examinations has been spotted in 80 percent of Atlanta’s public schools, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal disclosed July 5.

A 10- month investigation singled out 178 principals and teachers for engaging in a pattern of cheating in 44 of the 56 schools scrutinized covering much of the last decade. Of the 178, 82 admitted to wrongdoing.

The object of the cheating was apparently to make it appear that student test scores showed an improving mastery of math, reading, English/language arts, social studies and science material taught in the Atlanta Public School curriculum.

The tests are required of students in grades 3, 5 and 8 in order to be promoted to the next grade. Results from student performance on what are called Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests determine whether a school is making adequate progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

“We found cheating in 44 of the 56 schools,” Deal told reporters outside the Georgia state capitol. 

The findings are detailed in an 800-page report that says test score inflation is linked to pressure on teachers and principals to meet unrealistically high standards of achievement or face professional humiliation.

Instructors were also intimidated to remain silent about practices that included, according to the report, teacher-principal gatherings in what were labeled “wrong to right” parties.

Former APS Superintendent Dr. Beverly Hall, who retired last month, was also cited in the findings.

In a written statement posted on the Web by Atlanta-based WXIA-TV, Hall said she had not read the state report, but “steadfastly denies” involvement in any misconduct.
APS Chair Brenda Muhammad called the findings “devastating” after a briefing July 5.

“Many of our students have been cheated, and that, I think, is the most sinful thing that we can do or we could do to our children,” she said. “Those children are out there somewhere and we need to find those children…We need to do what we can to fix this problem and we need to make sure that it never ever happens again. And for those who are responsible, we need to be sure they are never ever in front of children again.”

State-appointed prosecutors conducted the probe to investigate allegations of cheating that surfaced during the 2009 state Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests. The investigators found that an unusual number of test answers showed wrong to right erasure marks.

Shawnna Hayes-Tavares, parent of an Atlanta student, told reporters from WXIA-TV, an Atlanta station, “We know that we have done a disservice to our children for years in Atlanta Public Schools, and they will be the product of this environment of this community as a result of that failure.”

“It’s my hope as a parent and a public school advocate that we can use what we find in this report to move forward and to assure that children won’t be cheated ever again,” added Julie Davis Salisbury, another Atlanta school parent.

The educators could face criminal charges and termination of their teacher certifications, according to WXIA-TV. Deal said some teachers who agreed to cooperate with investigators received immunity.

The report says cheating at the schools may have occurred as early as 2001.