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Black Chronicle
"The Paper That Tells The Truth"

Copyright 2015
Perry Publishing & Broadcasting.
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In Atlanta
Test Scandal Brings
More Guilty Pleas

 

 

By DIANE MATTHEWS GRIFFIN
Special to the Chronicle

 

ATLANTA—The cast of characters Monday was mostly former teachers and principals, six of whom pleaded guilty at a Fulton County courtroom for their part in what has been described as the largest cheating scandal in the nation’s history.
Their pleas bring to 17 the number of educators who have already pleaded guilty, with a handful more in active negotiations.
But the real focus seemed to be on the woman sitting quietly near the rear of the courtroom, Beverly Hall, the former superintendent.
Once considered to be among the top urban school leaders in the country, she is now viewed by some as the ringleader of a vast cheating conspiracy designed to make her and her district look good.
Dr. Hall, 67 and battling breast cancer, has pleaded not guilty to charges of racketeering, theft and false testimony. She along with at least nine and possibly as many as 14 more defendants will face trial in May, prosecutors said.
But in many respects, prosecutors began laying out their case against Dr. Hall during the plea hearings Monday, depicting her as the mastermind of a scheme that led to charges against 35 educators accused of manipulating test scores.
“The pressure from defendant Beverly Hall was constant,” the prosecutor, Clint Rucker, told Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry W. Baxter.
The charges are based in large part on an investigation ordered by then Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2010 into allegations of widespread cheating on the 2009 state-mandated Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.
Dr. Hall, who, for more than a decad, had been celebrated as an erudite, data-driven superintendent of a once-failing urban school district that became a model of improvement, was at the center of the inquiry from the start.
The report implicated at least 44 schools and 178 teachers and principals, and said cheating may have been going on for years.
It was so pervasive that some administrators even held what investigators said were “erasing parties” to fix the tests.
More than 80 of the educators confessed and many resigned.
The investigation found that Dr. Hall and her administration “emphasized test results and public praise to the exclusion of integrity and ethics.”
The result, it said, was a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation that led to a conspiracy of silence.
Dr. Hall has said in interviews that while a small percentage of the more than 3,000 teachers under her did cheat, she did not condone it or ask them to.
“The Beverly Hall as they characterize me is foreign to me,” she said in an interview after the investigation came out.
Many of those who pleaded guilty will likely face their former boss in court. As part of their agreement with prosecutors, they said they would cooperate as witnesses.
Clarietta Davis, the principal at Venetian Hills Elementary School, who, investigators said, wore gloves when she altered tests because she was worried about leaving fingerprints, pleaded guilty Monday to a felony charge of making false statements.
None of the educators received jail time, but they will instead perform community service and, in some cases, pay back bonuses that were tied to high test scores.
Despite the charges and pleas, some here still believe the scandal has been overblown and the criminal charges excessive.
“It’s more like Mouseketeering than racketeering,” said Bruce Harvey, Mrs. Davis’ lawyer.
The 50,000-student district could end up spending more than $6 million offering remedial instruction to thousands of students, said Erroll B. Davis Jr., who took over as interim superintendent from Dr. Hall.
A new school board is in place and the search is on for a superintendent to take over in the next school year, said Ann Cramer, who is heading the search committee.
“The community and the parents and the kids and the teachers are ready to move on, and there is a real spirit of hope,” she said. “Of course, there are a lot of barnacles that need to be scraped off, as they say, but a lot has been done.”
Many of the educators who pleaded guilty Monday said they wanted to move on, too.
Starlette Mitchell, 32, a former teacher at Parks Middle School, told the judge that $3,000 in bonus money had nothing to do with why she helped change answers.
“I truly believed that I was helping these children stay in school just one more year,” she said.
Judge Baxter was not impressed.
“I give that about a D as far as an apology,” he said. “In any event, I accept your plea.”

 

 

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