The teachers allegedly changed answers on the Georgia's Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (C.R.C.T) to boost scores, resulting in a great improvement in systemwide results.
After the improvements were made, the teachers were eligible for bonuses from federal money through the No Child Left Behind law.
It was a rumor for years that teachers were cheating in Atlanta, as they saw "extraordinary increases in test scores from one year to the next, along with a high number of erasures on answering sheets from wrong to right."
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Three years ago, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue had a team of special prosecutors investigate the matter.
The investigators found that Atlanta superintendent Beverly L. Hall and 34 other teachers "conspired to either cheat, conceal cheating or retaliate against whistle-blowers in an effort to bolster C.R.C.T. scores for the benefit of financial rewards associated with high test scores."
She was superintendent at the district for 10 years, and in 2009, the stellar test scores of her district got her the title of "Superintendent of the Year" by the American Association of School Administrators. She earned more than $500,000 in bonuses.
Hall is now retired, but faces up to 45 years in jail for being involved in the cheating scandal. She was charged with "racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements."
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Hall is also accused of pressuring principals to meet testing targets. Those who attained good scores were rewarded with bonuses and tenure. The only other option was "low score out the door," according to a teacher.
A state investigation in 2011 found that 180 educators in 44 Atlanta schools were cheating for their students on standardized tests. Many of those lost their teaching licenses or were suspended.
A teacher who wore a wire during investigation said, "Children who scored 1 on the state test out of a possible 4 became 2s, 2s became 3s. The cheating had been going on so long, we considered it part of our jobs."
In total, the Atlanta school system teaches about 50,000 students.
Teachers and administrators cheating in school district standardized tests is not just a problem in Atlanta, it is becoming widespread across the country. In El Paso, Texas, a superintendent went to jail after removing students who were known to perform poorly on tests from the classrooms so the district would appear to have improved scores.
In Ohio, an investigation is underway to determine if several districts in urban areas are intentionally listing low-performing students as "withdrawn" even though they are still attending school.