Education Week - January 17, 2018 - 12
Atlanta District Struggles to Move Past Cheating Scandal
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the scandal have also fallen flat.
The Atlanta Promise Academy, an effort
hatched to find dropouts harmed by the cheating and offer them GED classes or job training
has failed to get off the ground. In the two years
since Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced the plan, he has not been able to
secure financing to get it rolling.
And the district's main attempt to repair the
damage to students-a $3 million annual program for those who are still in school-hasn't
fared much better. In a new report from Georgia
State University, researchers found that tutoring and other supports may have come too late.
Roughly 1,800 students are now enrolled in
that program, known as Target 2021, the year
in which the last of the affected students are expected to graduate.
The program-which didn't launch until six
years after most of the cheating occurred-has
thus far had little or no effect on grades, attendance, or the number of classes the students
passed, the report by economist Tim Sass
found. And participation in Target 2021 has
had no statistically significant impact on the
chances of the students graduating from high
school, the report found.
Lost Years, Lost Students?
Even before the latest findings, the results
left some parents with the sense that, once
again, Atlanta is cheating its children.
"I can't go back and get those years back for
any of those children, including my children,"
said Shawnna Hayes-Tavares, a district parent and critic who sits on the program's advisory council. She had two children-one who
is now a district graduate and another who is
a student at the Atlanta Area School for the
Deaf-eligible for the program.
"We didn't even start the process until almost six years later," Hayes-Tavares said. "How
many students did we lose in the process?"
The Atlanta cheating scandal captured national attention for the pervasiveness of the
corruption within the 50,000-student school
system and for the aggressive criminal
prosecution of educators. Because bonuses
and raises were awarded to some educators
based on the fraudulent test scores, prosecutors charged the defendants with violating
the state's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt
Organizations Act, or RICO, by engaging in a
massive criminal conspiracy.
The investigation, ordered by then-Gov.
Sonny Perdue, a Republican, led to the in-
three children graduated from Atlanta's
To this day, Evans denies those claims.
"We were all just lumped into this big mess
of cheating and scandal," Evans said. "Nobody looked at me as an individual."
Judge Baxter says that he did. The semiretired judge calls Evans a "tragic figure."
Before taking the helm at Dobbs, she served
as the counselor at his children's middle school. The judge
credits Evans with helping his
son make it through middle
"[Evans] was well respected
and that was really hard for
me to see her in that situation,"
Baxter said in an interview.
She was among those convicted
of falsifying test results to collect
bonuses or keep their jobs.
Evans maintains that she never
felt undue pressure from her
bosses to boost scores at Dobbs,
a high-poverty school which had
been plagued by high absenteeism
and perennially low test scores.
"The job was big and so it was
hard. So, there was always pressure," Evans said. "I felt pressure to achieve
for my kids. Because I saw education as a
She maintains that teachers at Dobbs
cheated without her knowledge, colluding
to keep her in the dark about unethical
practices that began well before her arrival.
Prosecutors never directly tied Evans to the
cheating, but argued that as the principal,
she failed to do enough to stop something
she knew was happening.
Baxter sentenced her to five years in
prison; one year behind bars and four years
of probation. All the sentences, including
Evans', included hundreds of communityservice hours tutoring inmates and schoolaged children.
"It needed to be done," Baxter said. "It was
totally wrong and robbed a lot of kids of resources that they should've had. It's not a
We didn't even start the
process until almos t six years
later. How many students did
we lose in the process?"
dictments of 35 educators who, prosecutors
said, changed students' answers on tests
because of pressure to boost scores. Many of
the educators reached plea agreements in
exchange for their cooperation with prosecutors. The superintendent at the time, Beverly
Hall, was also indicted.
Educators in Georgia and elsewhere questioned whether prosecutors were too punitive.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first uncovered evidence of cheating while reporting
on abnormal test-score increases. The state
investigators that confirmed the cheating
found similar misconduct in at least one other
Georgia district. But authorities in that community decided not to seek criminal charges.
Jerry W. Baxter, the judge who presided over
the Atlanta case, and Howard, the prosecutor,
say they weren't too hard on the educators.
"It was a case about stealing an opportunity for education," said Howard, whose
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12 | EDUCATION WEEK | January 17, 2018 | www.edweek.org
The adults around Sheldon Garmon III see a
victor, not a victim.
A senior at The B.E.S.T. Academy, Garmon
ranks third in his class and is racking up college credit as a dual-enrollment student at Atlanta Technical College.
Nykira Ross, a senior at the neighboring
Coretta Scott King Young Women's Leadership
Academy, uses Target 2021 for SAT prep and
mentors younger students in the program.
For the district, Garmon and Ross are poster
children for the Target 2021 initiative: leaders
on campus and in the classroom. But the two
also represent what some critics consider a
major flaw: providing support to high-achieving
students while neglecting peers who struggled
and left the district or dropped out.
The state's investigation found erasure patterns on student answer sheets that suggested
the educators changed wrong answers to right
ones after the test. But the erasures were often
haphazard. In some cases, students with learning disabilities were identified as proficient in
reading and math. In other instances, highachieving students had their exams altered as
well, with their scores elevated from exceptional
to perfect. Students who erased and replaced
their own answers during the test are also eligible for Target 2021.
"We have a wide range of students," said Tiffany Franklin, who manages the program. "They
were identified as being potentially impacted
and so the services are there for them."
'They Barely Remember'
Celeste Boykin, one of the 18 student-support
coaches, works out of The B.E.S.T. Academy.
She tracks dozens of students, checking in with
almost all of them daily. They soak up the attention she provides, the tutoring she arranges,
and her advice on college. The reason the students receive the extra support rarely comes up.
"It's a non-issue," Boykin said. "These kids
were in 2nd, 3rd grade. They barely remember."
The students confirm that. They remember
more about the cartoons they watched and
games they played as 7- and 8-year-olds than
any high-stakes tests they took.
Brandon Alston, a junior at the B.E.S.T. Academy, says the tutoring he gets through Target
2021 has helped keep his grades up in algebra
and physics. Alston never contemplated whether
the cheating could have harmed him. "I never
thought about the bad things that could happen," Alston said.
A 2016 study by Sass, the Georgia State University economist, and his colleagues, tracked
the consequences of cheating on students in Atlanta and another undisclosed district.
In both districts, the researchers found that
schools with higher percentages of black students or students in poverty were significantly
more likely to show signs of cheating, such as
excessive erasures from wrong to right answers
on multiple-choice questions.
Sass and his colleagues found, on average,
those students' math and reading scores lagged
their peers by a half-year or more. The team also
found preliminary evidence that students whose
scores were manipulated by 10 or more changed
answers became less likely to graduate than
those whose test scores were not altered.
"If you're thinking you're helping a little 3rd or
5th grader ... by pushing them along, all you're
doing is setting them up for failure later," HayesTavares said.
Howard, the county prosecutor, argues that,
post-scandal, the district is "in a better place
because at least they are saying we recognize
we've got this tough burden and we're going to
try to work incrementally to get it done."
However, all the available evidence may not
Since the scandal broke, the district has un-
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 17, 2018
Education Week - January 17, 2018
QUALITY COUNTS 2018: Grading the States
Cheating Scandal in Atlanta Casts Long Shadow
Unknown Fate for DACA Leaves Dreamers on Edge
News in Brief
Ed. Dept. Finds Texas Suppressed Spec. Ed. Enrollment
How Classroom Location Matters In Teacher Collaboration
How Much Reform Is Too Much? Teachers Weigh In
Students Thrive When They See Purpose In Their Learning
K-12 Districts Advised on Rights in Post-‘Net Neutrality’ Era
What’s on the Runway for Trump, Congress on Education?
Year One: K-12 Presidential Scorecards
States Slow in Adopting ESSA’s Testing Flexibility
At Halfway Mark, Congress Faces Pile of Education Issues
K-12 Key Topic for State Legislators
Patrick J. Wolf: Four Sound Practices for Public Debate
DATA: Which 2018 RHSU Edu-Scholars have the greatest social-media influence?
Pedro A. Noguera: How to Decide When Your Voice Is Necessary
DATA: Where are the Edu-Scholars?
Robert Kelchen: Some Cautions for Junior Scholars (and Their Institutions)
DATA: Percentage of 2018 RHSU Edu-Scholars with Twitter accounts
Diana Hess: Scholars, Don’t Overstep Your Expertise
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Frederick M. Hess: When Public Scholarship Gives Way to Bombast and Bluster
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - Unknown Fate for DACA Leaves Dreamers on Edge
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - 2
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - 3
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - News in Brief
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - 5
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - Ed. Dept. Finds Texas Suppressed Spec. Ed. Enrollment
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - How Classroom Location Matters In Teacher Collaboration
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - How Much Reform Is Too Much? Teachers Weigh In
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - Students Thrive When They See Purpose In Their Learning
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - K-12 Districts Advised on Rights in Post-‘Net Neutrality’ Era
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - 11
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - 12
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - 13
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - 14
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - 15
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - 16
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - 17
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - 18
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - 19
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - 20
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - 21
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - Year One: K-12 Presidential Scorecards
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - States Slow in Adopting ESSA’s Testing Flexibility
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - K-12 Key Topic for State Legislators
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - DATA: Which 2018 RHSU Edu-Scholars have the greatest social-media influence?
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - DATA: Percentage of 2018 RHSU Edu-Scholars with Twitter accounts
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - Diana Hess: Scholars, Don’t Overstep Your Expertise
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - Letters
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - 30
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - 31
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - Frederick M. Hess: When Public Scholarship Gives Way to Bombast and Bluster
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - CW1
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - CW2
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - CW3
Education Week - January 17, 2018 - CW4