ATLANTA - The state Board of Education approved unanimously Thursday a plan to toss out scores for standardized tests at four elementary schools where cheating was discovered, which means the schools no longer meet federal standards.
The schools may have to return federal money they received for passing muster on No Child Left Behind measurements. And one of the schools, Burroughs-Molette in Glynn County, may have to offer tutoring and allow students to transfer to higher-performing schools because of consistent poor performance on federal benchmarks.
An audit released by the Governor's Office of Student Achievement in June shows that someone changed answers on fifth-grade math tests last summer in four districts after the students' had turned the exams in to teachers. State officials do not believe students are responsible for the changes.
"The board and I want to send a clear message that cheating will not be tolerated and we will take action, if necessary," state schools Superintendent Kathy Cox said. "Ultimately, the ones who are hurt by cheating are the students."
But at least one of the districts involved is disputing the audit, which drew the ire of Gov. Sonny Perdue on Thursday.
Atlanta Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall sent a letter to the Office of Student Achievement this week saying the district "strongly disagrees" with the allegations. The audit named Atlanta's Deerwood Academy as one of the four schools where cheating may have occurred.
Perdue called the district's reaction "outrageous."
"The evidence is overwhelming and any reasonable person can see that cheating occurred and children were harmed," he said in a statement.
The state school board vote was taken during a meeting Thursday in downtown Atlanta, just down the street from where the Georgia Professional Standards Commission was voting to investigate educators believed to be responsible for the tampered tests. The commission, which oversees the licensing of teachers in the state, voted to investigate two DeKalb County elementary school administrators, former Atherton Elementary principal James Berry and assistant principal Doretha Alexander.
The two were arrested last month and charged with tampering with state documents, a felony. Berry resigned his job after the audit came out, and Alexander was reassigned pending the outcome of the state's investigation.
Both could face losing their teaching licenses in Georgia if they are found guilty by the commission. Neither have returned repeated calls for comment.
Glynn County has filed a complaint with the commission to investigate one of its educators believed to be involved in changing students' answers. An internal investigation by the district revealed "test improprieties," but district officials have declined to say who they think is responsible.
In Fulton County, school district spokeswoman Susan Hale said Thursday that officials plan to file complaints with the commission about Parklane Elementary principal Lee Adams and assistant principal Vicki Bulluck because findings of an internal investigation were "inconclusive."
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