In a major national cheating scandal,11 former Atlanta public school educators have been convicted after falsifying test results to collect bonuses of up to $5,000 each. The superintendent, who allegedly oversaw the entire scheme, collected up to $500,000, the Daily Mail reports.
Beverly Hall was awarded Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators in 2009. She was credited with raising student test scores and making sure more students walked on graduation day.
There was just one problem: she cheated.
In 2008, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that some test scores in the school district were statistically improbable. This launched a two-year investigation that would reveal one of the biggest cheating scandals of its kind in U.S. history.
The investigation began in 2011 and uncovered evidence of cheating in 44 schools, with nearly 180 educators involved. It found that teachers were giving students answers or changing their answers on standardized exams to inflate scores and receive bonuses.
The cheating is believed to date all the way back to 2001, when test scores saw a surge in the 50,000-student school district. Between 2005 and 2009, test answers were tampered with and falsely certified, according to the 2013 indictment.
Hall, who served as a superintendent for more than a decade, insisted that she had nothing to do with the cheating scandal. However, investigators found that she “created a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” during her tenure.
Investigators also found that Hall allowed for “cheating — at all levels — to go unchecked for years.” They believe she collected more than $500,000 in bonus payouts as a result of the cheating scheme. Most educators involved received no more than a total of $5,000 each between that same time period.
“This is a huge story and absolutely the biggest development in American education law since forever,” Ron Carlson, University of Georgia law professor, told the Daily Mail. “It has to send a message to educators here and broadly across the nation. Playing with student test scores is very, very dangerous business.”
A grand jury originally indicted 35 educators, including Hall, in March 2013. Charges included racketeering, false statements and theft. Most educators reached plea agreements and were ordered to do community service, pay back the bonus money and complete two years of probation.
The remaining 12 educators were found guilty under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which is usually reserved for big-time mobsters and organized crime bosses.
One defendant was acquitted of all charges earlier this week. The other 11 educators will be sentenced on April 8 and could face up to 20 years in prison.
Hall, who was suffering breast cancer at the time, never went to trial. She passed away last month.
Educators testified that Hall was indeed pressuring them to inflate students’ scores on exams to meet federal benchmarks and receive extra funding.
District Attorney Paul Howard called it one of the biggest and most complex cases his office had ever seen. The investigation lasted two years and involved hundreds of interviews with school administrators, parents, staff and students.
“Our entire effort in this case was simply to get our community to stop and take a look at the education system,” Howard told the Daily Mail.
Fulton County Superior Judge Jerry Baxter showed no sympathy for the educators, who cheated their students out of a proper education.
“They are convicted felons as far as I’m concerned,” Baxter said. “They have made their bed and they’re going to have to lie in it.”