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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Deal: APS cheating investigation outlines 'dark chapter' in system's history

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Gov. Nathan Deal today said a state investigation into widespread cheating at Atlanta public schools outlines how more than 40 teachers and principals, operating in a "culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation," changed students' test answers — some even as far back as 2001.

The governor has forwarded the full report to three district attorneys, APS' acting superintendent, and other officials to determine whether criminal charges should be filed. He says there will indeed be consequences for those guilty of cheating.

Deal declined to address the report's specifics during a Gold Dome press conference, but did reveal general findings. Investigators tasked by former Gov. Sonny Perdue to probe allegations that APS teachers and principals changed students' test answers discovered that 178 teachers and principals were responsible or directly involved in cheating. Of those, 80 confessed. (See full statistics and general findings below.)

“When test results are falsified and students who have not mastered the necessary material are promoted, our students are harmed, parents lose sight of their child’s true progress, and taxpayers are cheated," Deal said. "The report’s findings are troubling, but I am encouraged that this investigation will bring closure to the problems that existed in APS and restore the focus on students and the classroom. As we begin to turn the page on this dark chapter in Atlanta Public Schools, I am confident brighter days lie ahead.”

Mike Bowers, a former state attorney general, and Bob Wilson, a former DeKalb County district attorney, handled the investigation but were not given a chance to answer reporters' questions at the press conference. According to the AJC, nearly 50 of the Georgia Bureau of Invesigation's 240 officers assisted in the probe.

Deal says he's waiting on Attorney General Sam Olens' advice to release the full report. Until then, we have the following summary from the governor's office to shake our heads about:

* Thousands of children were harmed by the 2009 CRCT cheating by being denied remedial education because of their inflated CRCT scores.
- We found cheating in 44 of the 56 schools we examined (78.6%). There were 38 principals of those 56 schools (67.9%) found to be responsible for, or directly involved in, cheating.
- We determined that 178 teachers and principals in the Atlanta Public Schools System cheated. Of the 178, 82 confessed to this misconduct. Six principals refused to answer our questions, and pled the Fifth Amendment, which, under civil law is an implied admission of wrongdoing. These principals, and 32 more, either were involved with, or should have known that, there was test cheating in their schools.
- We empathize with those educators who felt they were pressured to cheat and commend those who were willing to tell us the truth regarding their misconduct. However, this report is not meant to excuse their ethical failings, or exonerate them from their wrongdoings.

* The 2009 CRCT statistics are overwhelming and allow for no conclusion other than widespread cheating in APS. The BRC expert, Dr. John Fremer, wrote an op-ed article for the AJC in which he said there was widespread, organized cheating in APS.

* The drop in 2010 CRCT erasures confirm the conclusion above.

* Cheating occurred as early as 2001.

* There were warnings of cheating on CRCT as early as December 2005/January 2006. The warnings were significant and clear and were ignored.

* Cheating was caused by a number of factors but primarily by the pressure to meet targets in the data-driven environment.

* There was a major failure of leadership throughout APS with regard to the ethical administration of the 2009 CRCT.

* A culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation existed in APS, which created a conspiracy of silence and deniability with respect to standardized test misconduct.

* In addition to the 2009 CRCT cheating, we found other improper conduct: several open record act violations; instances of false statements; and instances of document destruction.

A statement from Mayor Kasim Reed, plus other updates, after the jump.

UPDATE 1:30 p.m: Mayor Kasim Reed issues a statement:

“Today is a dark day for the Atlanta Public School system. The State of Georgia’s investigation into allegations of widespread cheating on the CRCT test confirms our worst fears. There is no doubt that systemic cheating occurred on a widespread basis in the school system.

Further, there is no question that a complete failure of leadership in the Atlanta Public School system hurt thousands of children who were promoted to the next grade without meeting basic academic standards.

I am grateful to former Governor Sonny Perdue and Governor Nathan Deal for their leadership on this issue and for bringing the grave problems facing the Atlanta Public School system to light. The investigators followed the facts, regardless of where they led. I would also like to commend Atlanta’s press corps, especially The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for its service to the public by providing comprehensive, investigative reporting on the test score discrepancies.

I am confident that Interim Superintendent Errol Davis, former Chancellor of the University System of Georgia, and Board of Education Chairwoman Brenda Muhammad and Vice-Chairman Reuben McDaniel will take decisive action and lead the system in a manner that resolves the problems uncovered in the investigation and work to ensure that this never happens again.

The Atlanta Public School system can and will recover from this painful chapter in its history. The system has the support of teachers and educators who are principled and committed to serving the city’s students. The system has the support of thousands of parents who are deeply invested in what happens in the classroom and the academic achievement of their children. And Superintendent Davis, Chairwoman Muhammad and Vice-Chairman McDaniel have my full support and that of the entire City of Atlanta as they begin to move the school district forward.”

UPDATE 1:53 p.m.: WABE offers a video of the press conference:

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