Atlanta school officials reprimanded for continued obstruction in cheating probe

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Georgia state officials, investigating a culture of “intimidating, threatening and retaliating” against Atlanta Public School employees who come forward with information about widespread cheating and corruption in the system, sent a letter to the school board on Wednesday, demanding that the obstructive practices cease immediately.

Investigators appointed last summer by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue, say they have found evidence that the district-wide cheating on the state’s standardized test, the CRTC, has been going on for years. Since the early 2000’s, they say that the district engaged in “a pattern and practice” of punishing employees who reported cheating, or asked questions how the CRTC was managed.

The three state investigators who signed the letter, Mike Bowers, Bob Wilson and Richard Hyde, said the district repeatedly acted to intimidate witnesses during their own investigation, by having principals accused of changing test scores stand outside the room were witnesses were giving statements “with the obvious intent to make their presence known and to put a chilling effect on the staff member being interviewed.”

The letter also detailed accusations that a high level official in the district encouraged principals to refuse to cooperate with state investigators, and instead, write “go to hell” memos to state agents.

Even after the district learned of the official’s illegal actions, it waited two months before taking action, consisting of re-assigning the employee. During that period, the official took retaliatory action against at least one whistleblowing district employee.

The state investigators also demanded that the district immediately stop their own investigation, believing it was intended to further suppress information. District Superintendent Beverly Hall responded by denying the district was investigating anything, saying only that it was “conducting an analysis.”

Before the scandal was exposed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Atlanta school system was heralded as a model of success by turning around a poorly performing school system in just a few years’ time.

In 2008, the AJC reported that an independent study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania determined that the vastly improved test scores were statistically impossible.

Ultimately, outside investigators found widespread evidence of cheating in at least 58 schools. Test sheets showed that incorrect answers were erased on tests, and correct answers were substituted. Investigators also said that many teachers admitted to changing test results, and supplying questions and answers to students before handing out tests.

Largely based on the phony scoring achievements, the district’s Superintendent Hall, was named 2009 National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators. In May 2010, she was appointed by President Obama to the National Board of Education Sciences.

The AJC reported last month that the district has punished teachers that have reported the cover up of  cheating and other illegal activities, and has rewarded those who keep quiet.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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