Grand jury indicts 35 in Georgia school cheating scandal
Quote :Grand jury indicts 35 in Georgia school cheating scandal
Atlanta (CNN) -- In what has been described as one of the largest cheating scandals to hit the nation's public education system, 35 Atlanta Public Schools educators and administrators were indicted Friday on charges of racketeering and corruption.
The indictment is the bookend to a story that was once touted as a model for the nation's school districts after the district's test scores dramatically improved in some of its toughest urban schools.
Among those indicted by a Fulton County, Georgia, grand jury was Beverly Hall, the former schools superintendent who gained national recognition in 2009 for turning around Atlanta's school system.
"She was a full participant in that conspiracy," Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told reporters during a news conference announcing the charges.
The indictment follows a state investigation that was launched after a series of reports by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper found large, unexplained gains in test scores in some Atlanta schools.
A state review determined that some cheating had occurred in more than half of the district's elementary and middle schools. About 180 teachers were initially implicated in the scandal.
The alleged cheating is believed to date back to early 2001, according to the indictment, when standardized testing scores began to turn around in the 50,000-student school district.
For at least a period of four years, between 2005 and 2009, test answers were altered, fabricated and falsely certified, the indictment said.
According to the indictment, Hall placed unreasonable goals on educators and "protected and rewarded those who achieved targets by cheating. It also alleges she fired principals who failed to achieve goals and "ignored suspicious" test score gains throughout the school system.
In 2009, Hall was named the National Superintendent of the Year by the Schools Superintendents Association, which at the time said her "leadership has turned Atlanta into a model of urban school reform."
But the indictment paints another picture of Hall, one of a superintendent with "a single-minded purpose, and that is to cheat," Howard told reporters.
"For example, teachers who reported other teachers who cheated were terminated, while teachers who were caught cheating were only suspended," the indictment alleges.
"The message from Beverly Hall was clear: There were to be no exceptions and no excuses for failure to meet targets."
At the heart of the conspiracy to cheat, the indictment said, was money.