AtlantaAcademic cheating scandals are on the rise. More than 50 Harvard University students were disciplined in February for sharing answers on a final exam. Less than two months later, dozens of Atlanta teachers are awaiting trial for facilitating a standardized testing cheating ring.

A grand jury has indicted 35 school administrators and teachers, including former super Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Beverly L. Hall, for allegedly participating in or organizing “the largest standardized test cheating ring in our nation’s history.”

The school officials are facing up to 65 counts of theft, racketeering, conspiracy, and making false statements. All of the controversy and potential jail time stems from the Atlanta Public School systems’ unexplainable gains in the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, a group of state-issued standardized tests used to measure the students’ understanding of classroom materials. From 2005 and 2009, test answers were altered. The teachers would allegedly throw pizza parties and change their students’ answers on the exam.

The Atlantic Wire reports:

“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.”

Why would educators participate in such career-damaging acts?  The Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard, Jr., speculates it had nothing to do with the students’ futures. He explained in a press conference that the federal government awards bonuses to schools and teachers based on higher Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests scores.

Howard alleges the thirst for additional monies was Hall’s motive for orchestrating the cheating ring and firing instructors who refused to participate.

“Without her, this conspiracy could not have taken place, particularly in the degree in which it took place,” he said in the press conference.

Others indicted included six district principals, 14 teachers and six testing coordinators. Hall is facing up to 45 years in jail if convicted. The others are facing an array of sentences, ranging from a few months to several years.

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