Ex-schools chief knew of cheating, state report says

ATLANTA --- Former Atlanta schools Superintendent Beverly Hall knew about cheating allegations on standardized tests but either ignored them or tried to hide them, according to a state investigation made public Tuesday.

An 800-page report released by Gov. Nathan Deal's office through an open records request shows several educators reported cheating in their schools, but that Hall and other administrators ignored those reports and sometimes retaliated against the whistle-blowers.

The yearlong investigation shows educators at nearly four dozen Atlanta elementary and middle schools cheated on standardized tests by helping students or changing answers once exams were handed in.

The investigators found a "culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation" in the school district over the cheating allegations, which lead to educators lying about the cheating or destroying documents to cover it up, according to the report.

School officials had "warnings" as early as 2005 that there was cheating on standardized tests, but those signals were ignored, the report says.

Teachers who admitted they cheated said they were under immense pressure to raise test scores, the investigators wrote.

"Dr. Hall and her administration emphasized test results and public praise to the exclusion of integrity and ethics," the report states. "Dr. Hall either knew or should have known cheating and other misconduct was occurring in the APS system."

Hall's attorney, Richard Deane, denied the report's allegations.

"Dr. Hall steadfastly denies that she, her staff, or the vast majority of APS teaching and administrative professionals knew or should have known of any allegedly widespread cheating," Deane said in a statement. "She further denies any other allegations of knowing and deliberate wrongdoing on her part or on the part of her senior staff, whether during the course of the investigation or before the investigation began."

The results of the investigation are being forwarded to prosecutors, and many of the cases could lead to criminal charges, Deal said.

Deal declined to answer questions about Hall or her role in the cheating scandal. He said the investigation is being forwarded to Fulton, DeKalb and Douglas county prosecutors for possible criminal charges.

All educators in the report also will be referred to the state Professional Standards Commission, which licenses teachers in Georgia, to determine whether they should have their licenses suspended or revoked, Deal said.

Interim Atlanta schools Superintendent Erroll Davis said in a news conference later Tuesday that those responsible for the cheating will "not be put in front of children again." He took over the 50,000-student district Friday after Hall retired June 30.

Davis said he had not seen a full copy of the investigators' report.

The investigation was done by former state attorney general Michael Bowers, former DeKalb County district attorney Robert Wilson and former Atlanta police detective Richard Hyde. They conducted 2,100 interviews and reviewed more than 800,000 documents.

The state investigation was launched last year by Gov. Sonny Perdue after what he called "woefully inadequate" internal investigations at the Atlanta and Dougherty County school districts. The audit looked at the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

Dougherty County was later dropped from the state investigation because a Deal spokeswoman said the governor was satisfied with the district's probe.

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