Update on the Atlanta cheating scandal
April 5th, 2012
06:55 AM ET

Update on the Atlanta cheating scandal

By John Martin, CNN
(CNN) – Atlanta Public Schools is preparing for annual, state-mandated Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests later this month. This high stakes testing session is the first after an inquiry by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation suggested that at least 178 APS educators had cheated on the CRCT. The inquiry concluded the cheating had possibly gone on for years, up to and including the 2009 exam.

After the report's release, Superintendent Erroll Davis made a promise to Atlanta parents: "None of those implicated will be in the classroom when school starts this fall." Resign or be fired – that was the message coming from Davis' office, in letters and in meetings. About 70 educators named in the report retired or quit.

Of the teachers that remain, educators with three or more years of experience have tenure. The district cannot terminate them without due process. The district might even be forced to offer contracts to accused teachers who haven't been let go by May 15.

Atlanta Public Schools spokesman Keith Bromery recently told CNN that about 100 educators who have been implicated in the investigation remain on the APS payroll, on paid administrative leave. The accused educators are costing the district $600,000 to $1 million a month.

APS is in the process of terminating all of the alleged cheating educators. The district "hopes to do all of these by the middle of May," Bromery told CNN.

Michael McGonigle, Georgia Association of Educators legal director, said that not all of the accused educators should face the severest penalty.

“There are plenty of folks who are innocent ... and have defenses, and we would expect exoneration or penalties less severe than terminations," he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Damany Lewis was the first and so far only educator to go through the entire process. Atlanta’s school board fired him on March 21.

“We started with the most egregious cases," Bromery said, especially cases where there were confessions, such as Lewis'. Bromery said that as APS reviews the evidence, which resides in the Atlanta district attorney's office, officials build and send charge letters to the accused educator. In addition to a list of charges, the letters list evidence, potential witnesses and a hearing date in front of a tribunal.

The first round of 11 charge letters went out on March 2, including one to Lewis. According to his charge letter, Lewis admitted to state agents that he used a razor blade to open shrink-wrapped packages containing state-mandated testing booklets. He copied the contents, and then resealed the packages with a lighter after replacing the original exams. Lewis created answer sheets and distributed test materials to at least seven other teachers.

According to investigators, teachers at Parks Middle School, where Lewis worked, would hold "erasure parties." Teachers would try to improve test scores by correcting students' answer sheets.

It worked. In 2006, the percentage of Parks eighth-grade students who passed the math portion of the state's CRCT rose 62%.

But it was that improbable increase in achievement that led to Lewis' downfall. No one caught Lewis opening the test packages; and apparently, no one who received test booklets revealed that information before the GBI investigation.

The investigation began after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found unlikely gains in test scores among some schools across the state. That led to an analysis of erased answers on test answer sheets, which revealed that a significant number of wrong answers had been changed to right ones. The extensive nature of the practice pointed not to students, but apparently to educators, including Lewis.

On March 14, Lewis faced a tribunal made up of several educators and overseen by a member of the State Bar of Georgia. Bromery said the tribunal could have recommended that the school board fire, suspend, reprimand or reinstate Lewis.

During this hearing, Lewis refused to answer the tribunal's question. “I don’t want to say anything to further incriminate myself," Lewis said.

The president of the Atlanta Federation of Teachers, who represents 50 of the implicated educators, says that many of the teachers feel the process is unfair because administrators were asking their subordinates to cheat.

Lewis himself suggested that pressure from administrators caused the cheating. Lewis told the tribunal, "Teachers had nothing to do with the aura of fear and intimidation within the district."

At the end of Lewis' hearing, the tribunal recommended that he be fired, and one week later, Atlanta's school board did just that.

Lewis has the option to appeal his termination to the state school board, then to Superior Court, the Court of Appeals and up to the state Supreme Court.

The other 10 educators who received charge letters in the first round have since resigned or retired.

Eight additional teachers have received charge letters as of March 30. The letters allege that some of these educators copied test booklets; while others may have given students verbal cues toward correct answers.

Posted by
Filed under: Cheating • Legal issues • Policy • Practice • Testing
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Reliable letting in agents based in Plymouth,England

    I enjoy, cause I discovered exactly what I was looking for. You've ended my 4 day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day. Bye

    April 15, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  2. Commercial Window tinting

    Remarkable things here. I'm very glad to peer your post. Thank you a lot and I'm taking a look forward to contact you. Will you kindly drop me a e-mail?

    April 14, 2012 at 5:31 am |
  3. buy coffeemakers

    Fantastic submit, very informative. I'm wondering why the other specialists of this sector do not understand this. You must proceed your writing. I'm sure, you have a great readers' base already!|What's Taking place i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I've found It absolutely useful and it has helped me out loads. I am hoping to contribute & aid different customers like its aided me. Great job.

    April 10, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  4. Really???

    I asked for help for my child who has a math disability YEARLY in public school. I had no experience with a math disability... But more than enough experience with older siblings to know the child WAS cooperating fully & simply could not perform math problems if it involved any memorization of numerals.
    EVERY year; the new teacher would refuse to believe the child had any math problem. They would treat not being able to finish work in the allotted time as a discipline problem... With punishments that removed all the child's playtime & any daily enrichment like music, art, or foreign language. Every teacher, except for the second grade teacher, did this for 3/4 of the school year before admitting that the child truly had a problem.
    The second grade teacher was the only one who ever gave any tutoring, but it was a single 1 hour session at the end of the year. The only help the child ever received from that session was a pack of flash cards we had already bought for the child ourselves during 1st grade. When test times came up all these teachers gave the child a "cheat sheet" (in grade 2 there was a poster of them on the wall) with all the multiplication & division table answers drawn up as a chart. Georgia's behavior is not unique, I believe it is happening around the country, including my state.
    AS parents we were ordered at every meeting from second grade to drill the child with flash cards on weekends & over the summer. We drilled with flash cards from the end of 2nd grade until the beginning of 5th grade. At each teacher conference after 2nd grade, we would be accused of of lying because no progress had occurred. After the third time a teacher actually ranted at us for being "bad parents"... We told them to give us something that actually worked instead!
    The poor child got a page of math problems assigned by each teacher every day, in addition to any pages of math problems assigned to the rest of the class. Those extra 50 numeral only based math problems always took 3 hours every night to complete because the child simply lacks any numeral memory.
    We requested disability testing yearly. On one occasion; after we wrote directly to the county child study team in 6th grade, the school staff sent the child study team away over our protests BEFORE they could test the child for disability.
    During grade school; the child received only 1 hour long tutoring session in the 6 years from K-5. In middle school; the child was placed in their summer school program for an entire summer right after 6th grade. The kid was ordered to sit at the back of the classroom the whole summer by the teacher who said " I am not going to waste everyone else's time helping you". That ABBOT school received federal aid dollars just for having this child in the class, even though no help was ever given. Our complaints to the summer school program director & the school superintendent about this piece of fraud, resulted in "it doesn't matter if the child NEVER learns math" from the director & "Yes we have a problem, I'll get back to you" from the superintendent, who then proceeded to ignore the fraud.
    We transferred the child to private school after the end of 7th grade. Within 3 months, testing was performed by the county child study team, a disability was confirmed, & an ICP was created for the math disability. Tutoring for the math disability was started the next month.
    In a private high school now; the child has passed Algebra, Geometry, & Trigonometry with higher than average grades. However; that success may reflect the fact that EVERY class in this college preparatory private high school has a freely offered tutoring session every week for ANY student who feels they need extra help. Public school teachers still continue to resist offering extra tutoring for ANYONE, even children who clearly are incapable of absorbing concepts in class. They feel it isn't their job to help a child to learn.
    The amusing thing is... The public high school website says they spend $31K per year on each child. My child's private high school tuition is only $10K, where tutoring is freely available to every child in every subject. Georgia just got caught doing the same thing that schools across the country are doing. Someone actually made a candid video at a NJ teacher's convention called "NJ Teachers Gone Wild"... Where a teacher brags that teachers would have to have s3x in the hallway to get fired! If this scandal had been revealed in New Jersey ALL the teachers would still be employed by their schools! Clearly, it is time to issue parents school vouchers. We found a better education for less money!

    April 6, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Really???

      Sorry, that should read" IEP" rather than ICP.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  5. Ira Radnick

    Geez! Outraged, there is no other word for how I see this matter and how it has NOT been handled.

    April 6, 2012 at 12:58 am |
  6. Taxpayer

    Talk about cheating by teachers? The superintendent of schools in Martin County, FL has allegedly cheated on a certification exam. The person who the superintendent called to help with answers to essay questions reported the goings on to a district administrator who finally turned over the information to authorities. They will review whether it merits an official investigation. Where have all the role models gone?

    April 5, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  7. elizabeth

    I have been following the AJC investigation of cheating on testing with great interest, as I live in a state with abysmally low-performing schools and our district is among my state's lowest performing, too - the worst of the worst, unfortunately. At the same time, I volunteer about 100 hours a month (not a typo) in a local middle school, to help 7th graders improve their math skills. The average kid improves by about 3 years of grade equivalency over 3/4 of a year in the 7th grade class in which I work. (Almost 4 YEARS growth in test score in a year in school.) Their teacher works TIRELESSLY to teach every student one-on-one. ALL kids work at their own pace on lessons designed to teach to their particular learning deficits, so that they can reach grade level (or higher) by the end of 7th grade. We have 8 (yep, EIGHT!) teacher aides / volunteers to help in classes of 22-24 kids, and the kids do homework, and basic math facts practice EVERY SINGLE day. THIS IS WHAT IT TAKES to get kids caught up once they fall behind!

    Our average 7th grader has math skills at the low 4th grade level when s/he starts 7th grade – that's the AVERAGE. Some kids started as low as first grade, ninth month skills level this year.

    Before anyone advocates for a "free market" system of education, how about spending some time helping the teachers deal with a system that asks them to be EVERYTHING to kids, instead? Teachers now are expected to take the place of parents who have abdicated their responsibilities for making sure their kids sleep, eat breakfast, get to school on time, do homework, have school supplies, behave like human beings, and so on. LEND A HAND. BE AN EXAMPLE. HELP A TEACHER & A KID. Don't just cop out and say, "fire the teachers" or "send the kids vouchers for private schools" - the private schools are NO better, just more expensive and better at covering their foibles.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • shw58

      I'm a retired engineer. I volunteer about 10 hours helping with 2nd grade a week in the school where my wife teaches. I could note agree more with your comments.

      April 5, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • Cato_The_Elder

      First, thank you so much for your courageous and tireless efforts to help the students at your school. They undoubtedly owe you more than they can ever repay (not that your are interested in repayment anyway)

      The item in your response that drew my attention was your reference to "a system that asks them to be EVERYTHING to kids, instead? Teachers now are expected to take the place of parents who have abdicated their responsibilities for making sure their kids sleep, eat breakfast, get to school on time, do homework, have school supplies, behave like human beings, and so on."

      This is indeed the core issue. The sum effect of the state and federal governments efforts to "help" the less fortunate has been to nationalize the family. Husband no longer needed, we'll pay for your kids food, rent and medical care. Home education regarding fundamentals of math and reading, we'll take that too. Socializaton to ensure reasonable conduct in a polite society, don't bother. In fact, just forget the whole parenting thing altogether and just stuff your little tyke into a pre-school warehouse right off the bat and just outsource reponsibility from the get go.

      I grew up poor, put myself through college, and now own my own busiess. Despite qualifying for benefits such as food stamps, unemployment compensation and Lord knows what else, my parents would never take a dime. My father always said that you can get almost anything from the government as long as you are willing to first prostrate yourself as victm and surrender whatever personal liberty they demanded in return. It was not a bargain either was willing to take, and not a day goes by that I am grafeful I was spared government "help."

      I laud your efforts, but you are merely throwing beached startfish back into the sea; thousands will perish but the ones you get to will at least have a chance.

      God's peace be with you.

      April 6, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  8. retphxfire

    My sister is an educator. She and I have often disagreed on the current tenure guidelines. I believe that there needs to be more knowledge of the teacher as AN educator, their skills, results, etc. when granting tenure. However, since education administrator's are VERY political (I don't mean cons/liberal – but to their ideas/persona; preferences) and there would be constant upheaval in the classroom without tenure.

    April 5, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  9. SchoolMom

    The Atlanta cheating scandal is like something out of the film "Waiting for Superman." And the continuing refusal of teacher unions to accept the fact that parents want more choices in schooling their children—points up the need for real reforms in education.

    April 5, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  10. Frank Tavella

    Responsibility is key: Of parents for kids; teachers to actually teach the child,=and not to 'the test; Administrators to good teachers. Teaching is a charge we all must take seriously. Our country depends on it

    April 5, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  11. buffiesguy

    These are "professionals" who have descended toward the bottom of the food chain!

    They should be criminally prosecuted for thrusting egregious fraud on our entire society.

    Based on Mr. Lewis' allegations re: administrative "pressures," the investigation should be expanded to that level. If wrong-doing occured from management to staff, administrators should suffer the same fate!

    April 5, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  12. Renee / @TeachMoore

    The article does not indicate how many of the administrators who created this atmosphere have been fired or disciplined (other than the former superintendent who left). All who are guilty should be removed; however, due process is important since it's easy in a situation like this to cast a wide net of blame with little or no proof. That process might need to be expedited or updated to deal with something of this magnitude. There are, however, even larger questions that need to be addressed. Teacher concerns about how achievement testing is done in this country is not something we were "inculcated with" by NEA; NEA is simply reflecting the views of its membership on this issue. Many of our most outstanding teachers have raised alarms about how the new testing culture is adversely affecting children's learning and giving the public a false picture of American education. We need to take those warnings more seriously.

    April 5, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  13. Wade2

    Both teachers and administrators should be fired. And in significant numbers. If nothing else, our kids need to see what differentiates us from third world countries where corruption is one of life's accepted features.

    April 5, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  14. Ed Uktr

    The National Education Association and its local chapters — the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) and the Cobb County Association of Educators (CCAE) are cash cows for the Democrat Party. And as such, they are the groups the AJC prefers to quote (and thereby promote) in its education stories.

    But isn't this same NEA responsible for inculcating among teachers a disdain for achievement testing and for public oversight of schools? Aren't the unions constantly telling teachers they are "unfairly" held accountable for poor test results - or that class time is "wasted" on testing which, in the union's view, accomplishes nothing?

    April 5, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • Name*tbyrd

      Wow! You just don't get it do you? You must be an administrative person some where. The problems lie with parents and their expectations. The teacher must educate my child not in just math, language arts, and such but also in personal hygene, behavior and other matters that the lazy parents expect teachers to do. The school officials are afraid to do anything for the fear of not getting a levy passed so the whole problem with the system is bared by the teachers. Don't believe me? Spend a day in an inner city school for proof

      April 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
      • LibbyD

        It's long since time we gave parents tuition vouchers to spend where they wish, whether public school or private. No private school would survive this scandal. Nor would these schools in a free market.

        April 5, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • retphxfire

      Ah, here we go...didn't take too long. I was expecting some extremist on the right to accuse the union of some bad action(s). How easy it is to ignore all that unions have given YOU with their struggles. Living wage, sick leave, safe working conditions, workers comp. when injured on the job, etc etc etc etc etc etc

      April 5, 2012 at 6:58 pm |