In what legal analysts say is the largest standardized test cheating scandal in U.S. history, a jury convicted 11 Atlanta schoolteachers, testing coordinators and administrators of participating in a conspiracy to manipulate the results of standardized tests in one of the nation’s largest public school systems.
The scandal has tainted the integrity of test results of Atlanta students and the efficacy of standardized tests to measure student academic achievement in the nation’s public schools.
The jury found 11 defendants guilty of racketeering, a felony that carries up to 20 years in prison. Many of the defendants were also convicted of other charges including making false statements.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry W. Baxter ordered most of the educators jailed immediately. Judge Baxter, who presided over the six-month trial will begin sentencing hearings next week. Prosecutor Paul L. Howard, Jr. said:
“Our entire effort in this case was simply to get our community to stop and take a look at our educational system”…“I think because of the decision of this jury today that people will stop. I think people will stop, and they will make an assessment of our educational system.”
The case came to light in 2013 following questions about the dramatic improvement in test scores experienced by Atlanta students on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT).
The CFCT is a standardized examination “designed to measure how well students acquire the skills and knowledge described in the state mandated content standards in reading, English/language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.”
Questions about accuracy of the test results followed a series of articles published in the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that led to an investigation ordered by Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Investigators concluded that cheating had occurred in at least 44 schools and that the cheating was “organized and systemic misconduct.” In all, almost 180 employees including 38 principals stood accused of inflating test scores to falsify the achievement of Atlanta’s students.
The investigators found that cheating was concentrated in a few individual schools. Investigators also included a critique of School Superintendent Beverly L. Hall saying she “created a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” that allowed “cheating to go unchecked for years.” Ms. Hall died before the trial began rendering and any charges that might have filed against her moot. The elevated test scores also enabled school employees to collect performance bonuses.
During the indictment phase of the trial, a Fulton County grand jury accused 34 employees of participating in the cheating scheme. Twenty-one reached plea agreements while two other defendants died before they could stand trial.
During a plea hearing before trial, Judge Baxter warned the 12 recalcitrant defendants that there would be “severe consequences” for any of them were convicted at trial. A single defendant, Dessa Curb, was acquitted.