Eleven of 12 former Atlanta Public Schools educators who were accused of participating in a test cheating scandal have been convicted of racketeering charges Wednesday.
A grand jury indicted 35 educators in March 2013 on charges including racketeering, false statements and theft. Many reached plea agreements with prosecutors — receiving probation, fines and community service. Only one of the 12 former educators on trial was acquitted of the racketeering charge; verdicts on the theft and false statements charges were mixed.
The educators said they faced pressure from supervisors — including former superintendent Beverly Hall — to inflate students’ scores to show gains in student achievement.
Prosecutors claimed the former educators participated in a conspiracy to cheat on standardized test dating back to 2005, motivated by pressure to meet federal and Atlanta schools standards and receive bonuses or keep their jobs.
The jurors deliberated for nearly eight days after listening to more than six months of testimony.
“This has been a long, long, long journey,” Judge Jerry Baxter said shortly before the verdict was read. “I know everyone here probably has emotions they can’t describe. I know I do. But I want to tell you — I’ve been down here 42 years … and I’ve never seen a jury that was more diligent.
“Whatever your verdict is, I’ll defend it until I die,” Baxter added.
Hall, who was mentioned repeatedly in testimony, died last month after battling breast cancer. She was supposed to be tried with the others, but her lawyers successfully argued she was too sick to help her own defense.
The scandal dates back to 2008 when a dozen schools posted high gains over the previous year’s standardized tests. In 2009, a state investigation found “overwhelming” evidence of cheating at several schools. Hall denied the accusations.
In 2010, a bipartisan blue ribbon commission found “severe to moderate levels of cheating” at dozens of Atlanta elementary schools. An investigation by the governor’s office in 2011 uncovered widespread problems on state exams that were used to determine whether schools met the federal No Child Left Behind law, with ties to extra funding.
Investigators reported cheating in 44 schools with nearly 180 educators involved. They said Hall and her top staff “created a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” that threatened teachers or other educators who tried to report it.
Contributing: The Associated Press
SOURCE: WXIA-TV, Atlanta