A grand jury has indicted 35 school administrators and teachers for their alleged part in the biggest standardized test cheating ring in our nation's history. "What's the big deal?" you may wonder. After all, even those hoity-toity Harvard kids aren't above cheating once or twice. Why not the 50,000 or so students in Atlanta's public school system? Well, according to Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard, Jr., who spoke at the press conference announcing the indictment, federal funds were used in bonuses awarded to schools and teachers based on the results of Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, and employees who didn't participate in the ring were fired.
Those charged face up to 65 counts of such un-teacherly acts as theft, conspiracy, making false statements, and racketeering. According to the New York Times, altering tests was so commonplace that one school had "pizza parties" for the staff to correct wrong answers before submitting them to be scored. So now delicious, innocent pizza has been dragged into this scandal, too.
Former superintendent Dr. Beverly L. Hall is believed to be the mastermind, ordering her underlings (principals, teachers, and a school secretary) to get good test scores by any means necessary and rewarding those who did so by cheating. Under her rule, Atlanta's students improved so much (on paper) that Hall was named the National Superintendent of the Year in 2009 by the American Association of School Administrators.
"Hall is credited with transforming the 102-school system in Atlanta through a comprehensive reform agenda," said an AASA press release at the time; "Every elementary school in Atlanta made adequate yearly progress in 2008, and graduation rates at several high schools have risen sharply." Oops.
The allegations go back as far as 2005, and the suspiciously dramatic improvements in test scores were first noticed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in October 2009. Hall retired in 2011, conveniently just a few days before the results of a state probe were released. At the time, she denied having anything to do with or any knowledge of cheating. She faces up to 45 years in jail if convicted.
RELATED: The Moral Math of Cheating in School
The Atlanta public school system has spent $2.5 million investigating the scandal so far. No word yet on how much the accused are alleged to have spent on those pizza parties.