For 10 years, hundreds of Atlanta public school teachers and principals changed answers on state tests in one of the largest cheating scandals in U.S. history, according to a scathing 413-page investigative report released Tuesday by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.
More than three quarters of the 56 schools investigated cheated on a 2009 standardized state test, with 178 educators implicated, including 38 principals. Eighty-two teachers confessed to erasing students' answers and correcting tests. The report says widespread cheating has occurred since at least 2001 and that orders to cheat came from the top.
[Read about testing scandals in other states.]
"Superintendent Beverly Hall and her senior staff knew, or should have known, that cheating and other offenses were occurring," the report says. Hall retired in June, after serving as the Atlanta Public School System superintendent for 11 years. Hall's lawyer told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which originally uncovered testing anomalies in Georgia public schools last year, that the former superintendent "definitely did not know of any widespread cheating."
In 2009, she won the national Superintendent of the Year award for the gains Atlanta public schools made. Between 2002 and 2009, eighth graders' reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test jumped 14 points—more than that of any other urban area. At the time, Hall said Atlanta's students were "digging out of a deep hole and doing it at a significantly fast rate."
But Gov. Deal's report says Atlanta's school system didn't deserve the praise it received. "Many of the accolades, and much of the praise, received by APS over the last decade were ill-gotten," the report says. "There was a failure of leadership."
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told 11Alive News, the NBC news affiliate in Atlanta, that he was "stunned" by the revelation. "You really cheat the children, that's the part that's most disappointing about this whole situation."
[Learn how student cheaters often overestimate their intelligence.]
So far, no educators in Atlanta have faced criminal charges. The misconduct extended beyond erasing answers—teachers admitted to placing lower-performing students next to high achievers so they could cheat more easily, pointing to correct answers while students were taking the tests, and reading answers aloud during testing.
The report says a "culture of fear and conspiracy of silence infected this school system, and kept many teachers from speaking freely about misconduct."
Duncan said better test security could prevent cheating from happening in the future, but that the incident was an "isolated" one. However, testing scandals have plagued other school districts. In March, USA Today reported that tests in 103 schools in Washington, D.C. had higher-than-normal erasure rates. Officials in the District are currently investigating the claims.
Testing anomalies have also been found in the cities of Detroit and Baltimore and states including Ohio, Arizona, California, Colorado, and Florida. "The vast majority of people do things the right way," Duncan said.