The dirty laundry of the Atlanta public school system’s CRCT cheating scandal is again on display this week as 12 defendants— ranging from administrators to classroom teachers— are being prosecuted together in a Fulton County Superior Courtroom.
The main culprit missing in this test cheating conspiracy drama is disgraced former Superintendent Beverly Hall. She is receiving breast cancer treatment—although she could be tried later if her condition improves.
The apologetic and sometimes tearful confessions of educators taped by state investigators in the aftermath of the widespread scandal mustn’t be forgotten as new superintendent Meria Carstephen attempts to reform the 50,000-student system. Dozens of employees have already lost their jobsand teaching licenses since February 2010 when the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement announcedthat 256,779 wrong-to-right erasures occurred in 58 Atlanta public schools on the 2009 tests. Of those 58 schools, 43 were classified as “severe.”
The sheer magnitude of the number of erasures, the improbable gains on tests and the large number of schools involved indicated systematic cheating condoned and fostered by the central office and, many suspect, Hall. She faces charges of racketeering, theft by taking, giving a false statement and submitting a false document— namely, her superintendent’s test certification.
Thousands of Atlanta school children were hurt and betrayed by a system that wanted to tout test scoreimprovements. Swift and sure prosecution of the defendants, and jail time for the guilty, will provide redress. It will also provide a deterrent for other “educators” around the country who may dare to go down this path.
It must be noted that most of Hall’s enablers and School Board defenders are now gone or voted out of office. Interim Superintendent Errol Davis deserves credit for helping stabilize the system and for beginning the process of weeding out the bad apples.However, the School Board’s unanimous choice ofCarstarphen — who has a proven track record during her tenure heading the Austin, Texas, system– aims toachieve a systemwide turnaround. Right now fewer than 6 in 10 high schools students are graduating andsouth Atlanta schools, especially, are low performingwith poorly-maintained buildings and classrooms.
Carstarphen is already expanding tutoring and remedial opportunities. Particularly interesting will behow the superintendent addresses parental school choice. She supported a controversial Austin charter school, where the principal and teachers have far more independence from central office bureaucratic control.
In the meantime, the 12 defendants on trial are maintaining innocence even after the judge warned them of “serious consequences” if they are convictedof involvement by the jury. In this context, an expert who conducted an erasure analysis of the standardized tests has already testified that the administrators, testing coordinators and principals being prosecuted had to have known cheating was occurring.
It is a complex case and court observers say it couldtake months to resolve. But it will be needed closure.