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Cracking a System in Which Test Scores Were for Changing




Investigators described how Dr. Hall had humiliated principals who didn't reach their targets. Every year she gathered the entire district staff at the Georgia Dome. Those from schools with top scores were seated on the Dome floor; the better the scores, the closer they sat to Dr. Hall. Those with low scores were relegated to sitting in the stands.

Ohanian Comment: As always, Michael Winerip provides a telling incident, getting at the core of the story. Here we see how the teacher abuse and public humiliation started at the top. Also read what Stephanie Jones has to say.

The Associated Press gives a horrific account of teacher abuse by administrators.

NOTE: According to GreatSchools.org, 96% of students at Venetian Hills Elementary are "economically disadvantaged" and average number of years teaching of the faculty is "13."

Also NOTE: Valerie Strauss supplied a summary of the state report on cheating in Atlanta schools.

Final NOTE: Here is the investigative report. Big pdf file.

Reader Comment: I worked for Beverly Hall in New York City. I was always amazed how someone who seemed to know so little got so far. She, as many of the new administrators at the then Board of Education, seemed to value alliegence and cooperation over experience, knowledge and competence. She was one of the first of the new breed.

Reader Comment: I can't get over the fact the city of Atlanta felt it was necessary to pay this woman $400K+ a year. That's more than the president. She should be brought up on charges.

Reader Comment: Wow, whippy-do. A lot of sales organizations are run the same way, intimidation, insulting and degrading. Notice how the people that set up this counterproductive system, made out like bandits, leaving the peons to take all the punishment. Isn't it funny how management always beats the system. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact they set it up to begin with. Have any of those stock pumpers and dumpers gone to jail yet?

Funny how we couldn't use them same vigorous investigations to send some management personnel to prison for the deaths of those coal miners or the deaths of the workers on BP Oil Platform, or for gaming financial system. (They got their reward, our money.)

What they should do in Georgia is send the governor to jail for setting up this system and give a general amnesty, a general pardon, to all the teachers and principals involved in this.

Reader Comment: I am sick to my stomach at what Dr. Hall did - she cheated those poor kids out of a future. How do you live with yourself after that? Jail time is the only solution.


By Michael Winerip

ATLANTA -- There had long been suspicions that cheating on state tests was widespread in the Atlanta public schools, but the superintendent, Beverly L. Hall, was feared by teachers and principals, and few dared speak out. Last summer a supposedly Blue Ribbon Commission, headed by a businessman volunteering his time, produced yet another flimsy report, urging further investigation.

Gov. Sonny Perdue said he was fed up and determined to conduct a thorough investigation. For this, he called on three men who had spent a good part of their careers putting people in prison: Michael J. Bowers, a former state attorney general; Robert E. Wilson, a former county district attorney; and Richard L. Hyde, who could well be the most dogged investigator in Georgia.

It took them 10 months to uncover the biggest cheating scandal ever in a public school district.

They started with one school, as Mr. Wilson said, "to see if we could crack the egg." From a list of schools with large numbers of erasures on answer sheets, Mr. Hyde chose Venetian Hills Elementary, in a neighborhood he had patrolled as a young police officer.

"You start by walking around the school, giving everyone your card," he said. "Stir the pot." The first time he made the rounds, nobody cracked. But then, a religious woman with a lot to get off her chest came forward. One cracked egg led to the next, and within two weeks, five teachers plus the testing coordinator, Milagros Moner, had confessed that they had changed answers to raise the school's scores.

Mr. Hyde then outfitted Ms. Moner with a wire and videotaped her meeting with the principal, Clarietta Davis, at a McDonald's.

Ms. Davis had been so worried about leaving fingerprints while doctoring answering sheets, Mr. Hyde recalled, that she wore gloves.

The taking of Venetian Hills became the prototype for an investigation that found cheating at nearly half the Atlanta schools. A total of 178 principals and teachers --including 82 who confessed -- had fraudulently raised test scores so their schools would meet targets set by the district, according to the report, released June 30.

Investigators described how Dr. Hall had humiliated principals who didn't reach their targets. Every year she gathered the entire district staff at the Georgia Dome. Those from schools with top scores were seated on the Dome floor; the better the scores, the closer they sat to Dr. Hall. Those with low scores were relegated to sitting in the stands.

Principals, in turn, humiliated teachers. At Fain Elementary, the principal, Marcus Stallworth, had teachers with low test scores crawl under a table, according to the report. At Parks Middle School, teachers who refused to join “changing parties” that were organized by the principal, Christopher Waller, to doctor answer sheets were isolated or let go, the report said.

Six principals, including Ms. Davis (who has since retired), invoked their Fifth Amendment rights, refusing to answer investigators’ questions. Ms. Davis's lawyer said she did not cheat -- with or without gloves. Mr. Waller also denied cheating. His lawyer did not return calls. Mr. Stallworth told investigators he did not cheat or harass teachers, although in the midst of the inquiry, he was dismissed by the district for "screaming at teachers and demeaning" them.

It is now clear that for years Dr. Hall headed a school system rife with cheating and either didn't notice, as she maintains, or covered it up, as investigators suspect. During that time, she was named superintendent of the year by two national organizations, and praised by the secretary of education himself -- for her rigorous use of test data as an evaluation tool.

Apparently Dr. Hall applied that same rigor to fabricated test data, enabling her to collect $600,000 in performance bonuses over 10 years to supplement her $400,000 annual salary.

Dr. Hall recently retired. She has said little publicly, and her lawyer did not return calls. On Facebook she apologized for any of her shortcomings, but added, "Where people consciously chose to cheat however, the moral responsibility must lie with them."

During the 10-month inquiry, 60 investigators conducted 2,100 interviews. Dr. Hall was first, accompanied by her lawyer. "We start by asking people to tell a little about their background," Mr. Wilson said. "Most take three to five minutes. She went on for 20." When investigators visited her office, they were struck by how insulated she was. To reach her, said Mr. Bowers, "you had to use two security cards, plus there was a receptionist."

For her final interview in May, which lasted eight hours, Dr. Hall brought along four lawyers.

In November 2010, Mr. Bowers's phone rang. "It was Reggie Dukes, and he said, 'Mike, I need to talk to you,'" Mr. Bowers recalled. They all knew Mr. Dukes. He had worked as an investigator with Mr. Wilson, had been a police officer with Mr. Hyde, and Mr. Bowers had represented him in a civil matter.

Mr. Dukes had a story for them that reached all the way to Dr. Hall's office. He had been hired by the district in 2006 to investigate cheating at Parks Middle School. Parks had the highest erasure rate in the state. Its test scores were way out of whack: In one year, the percentage of eighth graders proficient in math had jumped to 86 percent from 24 percent.

Several complaints were sent to Dr. Hall, the first from the teachers' union.

Mr. Dukes's inquiry found that at least three teachers had helped 13 students cheat on the state eighth-grade writing test.

He recalled meeting with Dr. Hall and her assistants on May 10, 2006, to explain his findings. He also handed her a copy of the report, he said, but she did not look at it.

Five years later, Dr. Hall said she did not remember that meeting and could not recall any problems at Parks.

Last year, when investigators asked for copies of any reports of cheating, district officials did not produce Mr. Dukes's.

Fortunately, Mr. Dukes had saved a copy.

Mr. Wilson, Mr. Bowers and Mr. Hyde spent weeks writing and rewriting their report. "I ran out of synonyms for cheating," Mr. Hyde said. They named names and labored to take out all the legalese. "We were writing for the community," Mr. Wilson said.

As investigative reports go, it's a page turner.

At about the time the report was released, Dr. Hall left for a vacation in Hawaii. An Atlanta TV crew tracked her down and shot her having a leisurely lunch with her husband at an oceanfront restaurant. Afterward, the television reporter asked for an interview, but Dr. Hall said she was too ill. "I can't even talk," she said.

The interim superintendent has sent notices to the 178 principals and teachers named, demanding they resign. The current governor, Nathan Deal, warned that anyone who had not cooperated faced possible criminal charges.

As for Mr. Wilson, Mr. Bowers and Mr. Hyde, they are off to Albany, Ga., where another cheating scandal is brewing and there are more eggs to crack.

E-mail: oneducation@nytimes.com

— Michael Winerip
New York Times

2011-07-18

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/18/education/18oneducation.html?scp=2&sq=Atlanta%20teachers&st=cse

GA


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