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Shocking details of Atlanta cheating scandal

Ohanian Comment: For me the huge, shocking scandal, the Real Cheat, is the way these high stakes tests are systematically, deliberately ruining public education. This gets almost no ink.

So these educators' lives are ruined. . . while the real cheats keep raking in profits from their enterprise.

By Valerie Strauss

Itâs one thing to say there was widespread cheating on standardized tests in Atlanta public schools, as the newly released results of a state investigation showed. Itâs another thing to actually read the voluminous report. The details are shocking.

For those who havenât been paying attention, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) on Tuesday released the results of a 10-month state investigation he had ordered into suspicions of cheating on state standardized Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (or CRCT) in the Atlanta School System.

The results confirmed the suspicions and then some: The report said that cheating on 2009 standardized tests in Atlanta Public Schools was widespread and didnât start that year, âsignificant and clearâ warnings were ignored by top administrators, an environment of fear and intimidation ruled the system, and thousands of students were harmed. The cheating resulted primarily from âpressure to meet targetsâ in the data-driven system, it said.

The superintendent at the time, Beverly Hall, had been hailed for years for driving up standardized test scores. She just left the post, her reputation shattered. Hall has denied knowing about any cheating despite repeated assertions in the report by investigators that she and other administrators must have known.

Investigators went school by school, interviewing teachers, principals, top administrators and others to get to the bottom of the scandal, and then detailed what they learned.

I found a copy of the report on this Web site of CBS Atlanta affiliate. Here are some of the revelations, taken directly from the report, which give you an idea of how the cheating was done:

Connally Elementary School

âOf the 55 flagged classrooms at Connally, 47 (85 percent of the total) had standard deviations that exceeded five, and 32 classrooms exceeded ten standard deviations. At five standard deviations, the probablity that the number of wrong-to-right erasures occurred without adult intervention, or cheating, is no better than one in a million. At ten standard deviations, the probability is no better than one in a trillion.â

Perkerson Elementary School

âDuring the 2009 CRCT, Jocelyn Mack was a first grade teacher. Her reading and language arts classes were flagged for high wrong-to-right erasures with standard deviations of six and five. Principal [Mable] Johnson asked Mack if she wanted her tests early. Mack received her tests by 7:00 a.m., when they normally were not distributed until 8:15 a.m. Mack also was told to erase stray marks, but was not comfortable doing so. Tony Allen [testing coordinator] erased stray marks for Mack and other teachers.

âMack was surprised that two of her students passed the 2009 CRCT. One student sat uner a table, then randomly filled in answers and still passed. There was a student Mack wanted to keep in first grade at the request of the studentâs parent. Johnson said the student had to be promoted to second grade because the student passed the CRCT. Several students passed first grade reading but are now struggling to read in the third grade. Everyone at the school was afraid of Johnson.â


During Johnsonâs first interview with investigators, she answered questions and âdenied any knowledge of cheating on the CRCT test.â

âDuring her second interview, Principal Johnson invoked her Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer all the questions asked.â

Parks Middle School

âDistrict Leadership knew Principal [Christopher] Waller was cheating.... Dr. Hall also should have known Waller was cheating at Parks because once he became principal, the school immediately made dramatic gains on the CRCT and other tests. For example, between the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years, eighth-graders meeting or exceeding standards in reading increased by 31 percentage points, from 50 percent to 81 percent.... In math, the percentage of eighth-graders who met or exceeded the standards increased from 24 percent to 86 percent.â


Teacher âLatasha Smiley admits to cheating in 2009 [at Parks Middle School]. Francesa Thompson-Flagle, a PEC teacher, gave Smiley a copy of the 2009 CRCT. The copy was difficult to read. Later that day, Gregory Reid told Smiley that Damany Lewis had a âgiftâ for her. Smiley found a manila envelope containing a legible copy of the tests on her desk. During the test, Smiley improperly gave students the correct answers.

âOne afternoon, Lewis told Smiley to come with him. They went to [Testing Coordinator Alfred] Kielâs office and Smiley erased answers with the other teachers in the room. After the testing period was complete, Lewis came to Smileyâs classroom and told her to come with him. They went together to Kielâs office where Lewis took pictures of the room so that he could place everything back in its original place after they changed the tests. Smiley erased answers with the other teachers in the room.

âPrincipal Waller told Smiley to let him know if anyone contacted her regarding this investigation.â


âDamany Lewis was the first teacher to assist Principal Waller in cheating. He admitted to cheating in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. In 2006, Waller asked Lewis, âDo you think you could get into something undetected?â Lewis was not sure what Waller meant, but said yes. A few days later, Lewis was summoned to the main office where he found Principal Waller and [Success for All Facilitator] Sandra Ward with the CRCT booklets. Principal Waller looked at Lewis and then immediately looked at the test booklets. Lewis then knew what Principal Waller was asking him to âget into undetectedâ â the test booklets. Lewis found a key in his desk drawer that opened the room where the tests were kept. Lewis used a razor blade to open the plastic wrapping around the test booklets, copied the test for each grade, and resealed the wrapping using a lighter to melt the plastic. Once Lewis copied the booklets, he placed a copy of the social studies test in [teacher] Damien Northernâs car and a copy of the reading and language arts test in [teacher] Dorothea Wilsonâs car.â


Teacher âDamien Northern confessed to cheating in 2008 and 2009 and possibly in 2007 as well.â


Teacher âDorothea Wilson confessed to cheating in 2008 and 2009.... Principal Waller walked by her classroom often and said, âI need the numbers, I need the numbers.ââ


Principal âWaller denied causing or participating in cheating.â


Dr. Alfred Kiel [the testing coordinator] âwould not allow cheating so Principal Waller orchestrated Kielâs absence from the school building so the cheating could take place. On one occasion in 2009, Principal Waller took Kiel out for a âretirement lunch.â In another year, Principal Waller scheduled an impromptu after-school dance so that the teachers could stay late in the afternoon and cheat without raising suspicion. Kiel once noticed that things in his office had been disturbed while he was out and became angry. After that occasion, teacher Damany Lewis took pictures of Kielâs office before he altered the tests so that everything would be put back in exactly the same place so as not to raise Kielâs suspicions. No one implicated Kiel except Principal Waller.â


Success for All Facilitator Sandra Ward ârefused to answer questions after invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself.â


Teacher Francesca Thompson-Flagle âdenied knowledge of cheating or that she gave a copy of the test to anyone.â

Usher/Collier Heights Elementary School

âWe conclude that Testing Coordinator Donald Bullock and Principal Rogers directed and orchestrated a schoolwide scheme to erase and change student answer sheets. Mr. Bullock provided teachers access to student answer documents by allowing them to pick up tests early, keep them throughout the day, or by returning tests to certain teachers each day after the testing period ended. Bullock instructed teachers to change answers to make sure their students made their targets.â

âPrincipal Rogers denied participating in, or having knowledge of, cheating on the 2009 CRCT or any other year. She denied ever making a statement in f aculty meeting that âif Johnny canât read heâd better be able to read on test day.â


âMr. Bullock denied participation in, or knowledge of, cheating.â

Peyton Forest Elementary School

Teacher âBahji Varnerâs first year at Peyton Forest was the 2009-2010 school year. Varner was not at the school for the 2009 CRCT, but witnessed cheating in 2010.

âVarner saw teachers cheat on the APS district-wide benchmark tests. She proctored during this test and saw teachers point to certain questions and then identify the correct answer. After completing, the tests were scanned and scored at the school. [Teacher] Enolar Callands would watch the tests as they were scored. If the scores were not high enough, the teachers would review the tests with the students. Then, the students with low scores were sent to Callandsâ or [teacher] Bess Mae Paschalâs classroom to retake the test.

âOn the Fifth Grade Writing Test, Paschal instructed students to write drafts, and bring them to her to review and revise. Only after her revisions were the students allowed to write the essay on the official paper.â


âEnolar Callands denied knowledge of cheating on the CRCT.â


âBess Mae Paschal denied knowledge of cheating on the CRCT.â

East Lake Elementary School

âOn her first day at East Lake in 2009, Principal [Gwendoyn] Benton told [teacher] Raqketa Williams, âAt East Lake we do whatever we have to do even if it means breaking the rules,â pointed to the prior yearâs CRCT scores and said, âSee the scores? East Lake makes its targets.â â


âPrincipal Benton instructed [teacher] Stephanie Walls to create a seating charter for her students to be used during the 2010 Fifth Grade Writing Test. Principal Benton instructed Morresia Withers to pass out the writing test to [teacher Stephanieâ Wallsâ students in a particular order. Walls explained that by passing the tests out in the order Principal Benton wanted, the lower performing students would receive easier writing questions. Walls and Withers discussed Principal Bentonâs instruction and decided to ignore it. They passed the tests out randomly.


Teacher Morresia Withers said âthat Principal Benton and [Testing Coordinator Fran] Standifer instructed Withers and Walls to seat the students in a particular order for the Fifth Grade Writing Test.â


âTeacher Stephanie Walls said âPrincipal Benton instructed Stephanie Walls to create a seating chart for her students to be used during the 2010 Fifth Grade Writing Test.ââ


âTesting Coordinator Fran Standifer described Principal Benton as overbearing... Fran Standifer denies any knowledge of cheating.â


âPrincipal Benton denied any knowledge of cheating on the CRCT at East Lake.â

Finch Elementary School

âThree teachers confessed to cheating. Two teachers pointed to answers, re-read questions, or used other cues to ensure their students chose correct answers. One teacher confessed to erasing and changing answers in the principalâs conference room where teachers were gathered by grade levels to erase stray marks.â


Teacher Ashley âDaniel said that there were several reasons teachers would cheat. Principal Paden linked test scores to evaluations, and told Daniel that she needed better scores to get a better evaluation. Scores were posted at faculty meetings and teachers were singled out in front of their colleagues. Principal Paden threatened teachers in a meeting, and told them if she was going to be on a PDP [a professional development plan developed and implemented to correct perceived deficiencies in performance of teachers and administrators] then they should be on one also. Principal Paden made threatening statements, like âThe door swings both ways,â and âWalmart is hiring.â â


âPrincipal Paden admitted that she had been placed on a PDP more than once . .. for not meeting targets... She denied pressuring teachers to meet targets, stating that the pressure was just their âperception.â â

Dobbs Elementary School

Teacher Arlette âCrump admits to âbumpingâ studentsâ desks when she noticed a wrong answer on the CRCT and instructing the student to âlook at that again.â â

Fain Elementary School

Teacher Yolanda McQueen reported that âPrincipal [Marcus] Stallworth told the teachers that they should âuse whatever means necessaryâ to ensure students passed the CRCT.â


âDouglas Rozier taught at Fain for fifteen years. When Stallworth was principal, Principal Stallworth told teachers during faculty or grade-level meetings to use voice inflection to assist the students on the CRCT. He instructed teachers to âmake it workâ and that when monitoring the room, teachers should direct students to the correct answers. Principal Stallworth also said teachers should give students additional time on the test....â


Principal Marcus Stallworth âdenied cheating on the CRCT or encouraging teachers to cheat.â

— Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Answer Sheet


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