Georgia educators in cheating scandal suspended

ATLANTA - A former DeKalb County principal is banned from Georgia schools for two years and his assistant principal is suspended for a year after the two were involved in a cheating scandal.

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission, which oversees the certification of teachers, voted Thursday to suspend the licenses of former Atherton Elementary principal James Berry and former assistant principal Doretha Alexander.

The commission also voted to investigate at least seven educators in three other elementary schools for their part in what state officials say was a ploy to change students' answers on fifth-grade math tests in summer 2008 to improve their scores and avoid federal sanctions.

"A two-year suspension of your ability to practice your chosen profession is a severe action," said Kelly Henson, executive secretary of the commission.

The suspensions stem from a Governor's Office of Student Achievement audit released in June that revealed the alleged cheating. State officials do not believe students were involved.

After the audit came out, Berry and Alexander were arrested by DeKalb County authorities on charges of tampering with state documents, a felony. The DeKalb County district attorney's office continues to investigate the case but has not yet taken it before a grand jury for indictments.

Berry and Alexander have been free on bond since their June arrests. Their attorneys did not immediately return calls for comment.

The suspensions mean neither can work in a Georgia public school system, even as a substitute teacher. Once the suspension has ended, the two can reapply for teaching licenses. They have 30 days to appeal the decision.

The other educators being investigated were at Deerwood Academy in Atlanta, Burroughs-Molette Elementary in Glynn County and Parklane Elementary in Fulton County.

The altered test answer sheets meant the schools made "adequate yearly progress" on federal No Child Left Behind standards. The state Board of Education voted in July to void the tests in question and revoke the schools' federal standing.

Now, the schools may have to return some federal money and at least one will have to offer tutoring and allow parents to transfer students to higher-performing schools.

Atlanta Public Schools officials have questioned the state's results, pointing to the results of an investigation paid for by the district that found the state audit was based on "speculation" and not "concrete" evidence.

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