State inquiry into Atlanta test scores finds widespread cheating

Reporter Maura Walz’s journey from GothamSchools to Georgia placed her in the South just in time to cover the education scandal of the century — or at least the summer.

Atlanta’s steadily increasing state test scores were, at least in part, driven by cheating, according to investigators appointed by former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue. Today, Perdue’s successor, Nathan Deal, released the results of the two-year investigation.

Investigators looked at more than half of Atlanta’s 100 public schools and found evidence of cheating in the vast majority of them. They found that more than a third of the city’s principals had knowledge of or input into cheating at their schools; thousands of students had been denied extra help after being given scores they didn’t deserve; and “a culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation” inhibited whistle-blowing.

State officials say criminal charges are likely to follow for some of the 180 teachers, principals, and district officials named in the report.

From Walz’s story for Georgia Public Broadcasting:

The governor refused to comment on how much responsibility for the cheating lies with former Superintendent Beverly Hall, who retired last week. But the report cites what investigators call a “major failure of leadership.” Deal said that extreme pressure to boost test scores drove teachers and principals to cheat. “I think the overall conclusion was that testing, and results, and targets being reached became more important than actual learning on the part of children,” Deal said. But Atlanta’s brand-new interim superintendent Erroll Davis said that though the district would take a zero-tolerance policy towards cheating, it would not relax its expectations for academic performance. “I don’t know what makes people cheat, but I want to make one thing clear: It is not pressure to perform,” Davis said.

The full 800-page report is being released tonight, and Walz says she’ll be at the governor’s office at 6:30 p.m. to pick up a copy.