Atlanta schools created culture of cheating, fear

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ATLANTA --- Teachers spent nights huddled in a back room, erasing wrong answers on students' test sheets and filling in the correct bubbles. At another school, struggling students were seated next to higher-performing classmates so they could copy answers.

Students at Emma Hutchinson School in Atlanta leave after the day's classes. Hutchinson has been identified as one of 44 schools involved in the nation's largest-ever test-cheating scandal.   Associated Press
Associated Press
Students at Emma Hutchinson School in Atlanta leave after the day's classes. Hutchinson has been identified as one of 44 schools involved in the nation's largest-ever test-cheating scandal.

Those and other confessions are contained in a state report that reveals how far some Atlanta public schools went to raise test scores in the nation's largest-ever cheating scandal. Investigators concluded that nearly half the city's schools allowed the cheating to go unchecked for as long as a decade, beginning in 2001.

Administrators -- pressured to maintain high scores under the federal No Child Left Behind law -- punished or fired those who reported anything amiss and created a culture of "fear, intimidation and retaliation," according to the report released this month, two years after officials noticed a suspicious spike in some scores.

The report names 178 teachers and principals, and 82 of those confessed. Tens of thousands of children at the 44 schools, most in the city's poorest neighborhoods, were allowed to advance to higher grades even though they didn't know basic concepts.

One teacher told investigators the district was "run like the mob."

"Everybody was in fear," another teacher said in the report. "It is not that the teachers are bad people and want to do it. It is that they are scared."

FOR TEACHERS AND THEIR bosses, the stakes were high: Schools that perform poorly and fail to meet certain benchmarks under the federal law can face sanctions.

They could be forced to offer extra tutoring, allow parents to transfer children to better schools, or fire teachers and administrators who don't pass muster.

Experts say the scandal -- which involved more schools and teachers than any other in U.S. history -- has led to soul-searching among other urban districts facing cheating investigations and those that have seen a rapid rise in test scores.

Bob Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which works to end abuses in standardized testing and wants changes made to the federal No Child Left Behind law, said many are wondering where the "next Atlanta" will be.

"Because of Atlanta, the media and policymakers are going back and looking at concerns raised about their states," Schaeffer said. "This is the top issue. When you see a story like this and see the incredible impact of the confessions, you start to look and say, 'Hey, is there something comparable going on here?' "

In Georgia, teachers complained to investigators that some students arrived at middle school reading at a first-grade level. But, they said, principals insisted those students had to pass their standardized tests. Teachers were either ordered to cheat or pressured by administrators until they felt they had no choice, authorities said.

One principal forced a teacher to crawl under a desk during a faculty meeting because her test scores were low. Another principal told teachers that "Wal-Mart is hiring" and "the door swings both ways," the report said.

Another principal told a teacher on her first day that the school did what was necessary to meet testing benchmarks, even if that meant "breaking the rules."

Teachers from the investigation contacted by The Associated Press did not return calls or declined to comment.

Educators named in the investigation could face criminal charges ranging from tampering with state documents to lying to investigators, and many could lose their teaching licenses.

PARENTS OF CHILDREN enrolled at the 44 schools say they are frustrated and angry.

Shawnna Hayes-Tavares said her son's test scores dropped dramatically after he transferred out of Slater Elementary. She said a testing coordinator at the new school told her the test scores could have been inflated.

The possibility that there could have been cheating "gives me and him a false sense of security as to where he is," she said.

Uncertainty about her son's progress "has not afforded us the opportunity to do more remediation in those areas of weakness," Hayes-Tavares said. "It robbed us of those opportunities. We're going to try to play catch up now."

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lynn7044 07/17/11 - 08:35 am
Well lets start with the

Well lets start with the parents, why are they not coming to the school to just check on their children. "Read" with your kids, get away from the TV. States have made it so hards that they can't do the real job "TEACH". Let them start at the front of the book and go to the end of the book. So many people are getting away from teach until the great teachers or going into other areas and leaving lazy teachers there to teach for the state test. Teachers, have came before and after school to help kids, yet parents won't either bring them early or won't pick them up. So start in the back yard at home with parents. Babies need to stop having babies. Parents stop being lazy,look at your childrens homework. It is homework for a reason. Come to PTA meeting, come to math night, just get up and come. Teachers are being more then a teacher,they mothers and fathers, they are cooks, they are family counslors, they are safe place for the homeless, and they are supplies for the have not. Yet, they still have to teach our children with such less pay.
I have been very bless that my son's have had great teacher, but I stay on top of the game plan. His teacher know from the start of the school year that this is a team effort to eaducate him. Yet, they also know that it they need my help with other kids that I will help. My son is from Richmond County (11th largerest in GA) I stay on top. I have meetings with his teacher before school start and I have it during the year. I dont leave it to just them, it's take teamwork. Teachers need to be able to educate our children and not to take a state test, children are missing the basic.

Reverie 07/17/11 - 10:21 am
You reap what you sow. NCLB

You reap what you sow. NCLB is punitive. It does not reward success, but only punishes failure. How many schools and districts didn't get caught? If you want results change the law to have positive rewards for success. Educators know more than any other segment of society that rewards motivate positive behaviors whereas punitive consequences only stop or prevent a given behavior. Punishment does not motivate you to be successful. Schools are just like a kid. Give them a carrot on a stick and the teachers and students will get results. Threaten them with a slap and they will duck and cover. What happen in 2013 when all schools must achieve 100% AYP success or else be labeled as a failure and eventually be taken over by the feds and the teachers fired? Duck and cover!

Willow Bailey
Willow Bailey 07/17/11 - 03:01 pm
I don't buy it that the

I don't buy it that the parents were not aware of their children's low
achievements. And even more to the point, in case they truly were not aware, shame on them for not paying more attention.

I would be in favor of an amnesty agreement, so that all administration can come forward, put the problems on the table and find real solutions to real problems. This should not be about punishment; it should be about real change that works for education. Politicians don't have all of the answers and a very good chance they don't have any.

seenitB4 07/18/11 - 07:18 am
The tip of the

The tip of the you really think this is isolated to Atlanta??

When teachers are told "Walmart is hiiring"----get under a desk when the test scores are low....what can one expect....nclb doesn't sounds good...but it isn't practical......some kids need to be heldback..crazy system of teaching imo....jmo...

Bruno 07/18/11 - 12:33 pm
While I do agree that NCLB

While I do agree that NCLB has its flaws, don't try to blame NCLB for your lack of morality. ALL of the teachers and administrators named in this should be fired and have their teaching credentials removed.

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