The Atlanta school cheating scandal: could it get any worse?

It takes a lot to stun me these days, but I’m stunned by the scale of the cheating scandal in the Atlanta school system. Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) scores were routinely manipulated, with the knowledge or even the active participation of dozens of school principals.

If you haven’t been following the issue, you can easily find all sorts of news articles about it. And you can look at the press release from Governor Deal’s office here. Here are the highlights in the findings of the probe into 56 Atlanta schools:

* Thousands of children were harmed by the 2009 CRCT cheating by being denied remedial education because of their inflated CRCT scores.
o 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.
o 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.
o 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.

According to an AP piece this morning, Atlanta schools announce changes after scandal, 178 educators have been dismissed, a “fraction” of the system’s total of 6,000. But how many got away with changing answers and inflating scores? It’s really impossible to imagine that only 178 employees could perpetrate this amount of fraud for a decade without others being involved either passively or actively?

And how to make sense of the moral failing? Teachers generally really do enter the field with a genuine desire to educate. How did they end up here?

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