ATLANTA --- A cheating scandal is roiling Atlanta Public Schools, casting into doubt the work of hundreds of students in at least 12 of the mostly poor, mostly minority district's elementary and middle schools.
At one elementary school, a pupil said his teacher whispered in his ear the correct answers for a standardized test.
A teacher at another school reported seeing school administrators and other educators erasing wrong answers and filling in the right ones after students had turned in tests. One teacher said an administrator told her to "shhhh" when she brought up possible cheating by educators in the school.
The allegations surfaced in recent days as part of a statewide review of every standardized test taken in Georgia elementary and middle schools in spring 2009. The problems have drawn comparisons to scandals elsewhere that experts say reflect the increasing pressure to meet federal No Child Left Behind standards.
The controversy has put a black mark on the squeaky clean reputation of Superintendent Beverly Hall, who was named 2009 Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators, in large part for her work increasing the district's test scores and graduation rates.
Hall stressed that the independent investigation cleared the majority of the district's 100 schools and that the cheating, if it existed, was not "coordinated or orchestrated."
"In any profession -- from religion to journalism -- you have a small percentage of people who will be unethical. It doesn't mean you minimize it, but you put it in perspective," she said.
District officials are trying to determine exactly what happened last year at schools where test scores rose dramatically -- almost impossibly, in some cases. For example, at Peyton Elementary -- where between 93 and 97 percent of students passed math, reading and English language arts tests -- the likelihood that students in one educator's classroom made such a high number of erasure marks to their tests is one in 10 trillion, according to the district's investigative report released earlier this month.
Hall ordered the independent investigation into questions raised by the statewide audit that was released in the spring.
She has also launched a three-month tutoring program for students who were at the 12 schools under suspicion to make sure they aren't behind in math, English and other subjects. The extra studying involves before- and after-school tutoring, along with help during class.
Hall also has reassigned 12 principals to jobs where they aren't in direct contact with students and turned the names of more than 100 educators over to the state for investigation.
That hasn't satisfied some critics, who have asked for Hall's resignation.