In February of this year, I blogged about the Atlanta Public Schools which were being investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations for possible cheating on their state tests. Well, the news is in, and it isn’t pretty!
On Tuesday, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal released a statement from his office revealing the report from the GBI: 178 teachers and principals were involved in undoubtedly the biggest test-cheating scandal in our country’s history. Would it surprise you to learn that 38 of the 178 who were involved were principals, which tells you how high up this operation went, and 6 of them would not answer investigators’ questions? The report also indicated that 82 of the 178 have confessed to cheating.
Atlanta Public Schools earned national prominence over the last ten years (and, yes, that is about how long this has been going on) due to the steady improvements they were making on their test scores. Because of these improvements, they received both notice and funding from the Gates and Broad Foundations. Sadly, this report makes it clear that those gains were made due to 44 of the 56 schools which were under investigation in this school district erasing and changing test answers. In a district with 100 schools, that means almost half of the APS were involved in this scandal!
Scathing news, but there’s more! The report states that the district repeatedly refused to investigate or take responsibility for the cheating, and the central office actually told some of the principals to be uncooperative when the investigators talked to them. One administrator went so far as to tell their employees to tell GBI investigators to “go to hell!” Teachers who tried to report what was happening were referred to as “disgruntled” in order to discredit their warnings, and one principal went so far as to open an ethics investigation against someone who was trying to report the truth.
The house of cards crumbled earlier this year when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and state investigators discovered a pattern which has become consistent in other incidences of cheating on state tests. In each case, there has been a dramatic increase at one critical grade level which drops drastically the next. In all of these comparable situations, there was also a high incidence of erasure of wrong to right answers.
Superintendent Beverly Hall, who has been the head of the school system for twelve years and was named U.S. Superintendent of the Year in 2009, mainly due to the amazing gains that had been made by an inner-city school system, has resigned from her position under a cloud of suspicion. Although she admitted to wrongdoing, she did not take any blame herself. In fact, she blamed the scandal on other administrators. But while investigators say she hasn’t been directly tied to any of the wrongdoing, they maintain that she probably was aware of what was happening, or at the very least, she should have been aware.
One article I read gave examples from the 800 page report by GBI of the pervasiveness of the cheating. At Parks Middle School, one of the worst examples, the percentage of eighth-graders who exceeded expectations rose from 1% to 46%. Audits of the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) reveal that 89% of the classrooms at this school were flagged by the state for possible cheating, and several of the school’s teachers have already admitted that they provided answers to their students or changed test scores.
The report further states that once Christopher Waller became the principal at Parks “the school immediately made dramatic gains on the CRCT and other tests.” It states that Superintendent Hall should have realized something was not right, but instead Waller and Parks Middle School were publicly praised for the achievements they had made.
Also in the report was the fact that four educators from Gideons Elementary confessed that they met at a home in Douglas County one week to change students’ answers from wrong to right. They called it a “changing party.”
Investigators found evidence of intimidation of teachers to get them to comply with what was happening around them. For example, the principal at Fain Elementary forced a teacher to crawl under a table in the middle of a faculty meeting to humiliate the individual because the teacher’s students’ test scores were so low!
And a teacher from Perkerson Elementary told the investigators that a student who sat under a table randomly filling in answers on the CRCT somehow had passed. And the report indicated that although several of this school’s first grade students passed the reading test, they were having great difficulty reading in third grade.
On Wednesday, Mayor Kasim Reed responded to the devastating report from the GBI, saying, “Yesterday morning was really the hardest day I have had as mayor of Atlanta or anytime. Just to hear all of it laid out in a fashion, that is almost irrefutable, by a serious person (Gov. Deal) is really, very hard.”
Reed admits that city leaders should have recognized that something wasn’t right. He said, “We all have a part of the blame here. The statistical differences certainly should have shocked people within the profession, and I think we should have looked harder as well. I think that we will turn this into something positive. We are going to stop the harm. There were children being moved and advanced that shouldn’t have. We are going to let everyone know, it is all hands on deck. But, we are going to recover and we are going to get through it and have a better system. Because the things that occurred here simply will not be allowed to occur again, and that is what we have to take from this.”
Maureen Downey, the education columnist for Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote, “The [Atlanta] teachers, principals and administrators wanted to prove that the faith of the Broad and Gates Foundations and the Chamber of Commerce in the district was not misplaced and that APS could rewrite the script of urban education in America and provide a happy, or at least a happier, ending for its students. And that’s what ought to alarm us, that these professionals ultimately felt their students could not even pass basic competency tests, despite targeted school improvement plans, proven reforms, and state-of-the-art teacher training.”
This has been a difficult blog for me to write because it will unfortunately reinforce some of those negative opinions out there concerning public schools and its teachers. But these are the facts, and I am presenting them to you without any comment for today. Tomorrow I will voice some thoughts and feelings regarding this horrific scandal. For now, I just have to let this all percolate for awhile in the hope that it may lose some of its bitterness.