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In Atlanta test-cheating scandal, a case for 'good apples'

Indictments of 35 Atlanta educators in a test-cheating scandal may be shocking. But preventing such scandals requires a refocus on tapping the conscience of public servants to choose honesty.

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In this 2011 photo, outgoing school superintendent Beverly Hall (c.), arrives for her last school board meeting at the Atlanta Public Schools headquarters. Dr. Hall and nearly three dozen administrators, teachers, principals and other educators were indicted March 29, 2013, in one of the nation's largest cheating scandals.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP

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A jury in Georgia indicted 35 Atlanta educators on Friday in what has been called the largest test-cheating scandal in American public schools.

Those charged “conspired to either cheat, conceal cheating, or retaliate against whistle-blowers” in order to boost the test scores of students – but with the aim to benefit themselves, prosecutors said.

The indictments come two years after state investigators revealed that 178 administrators and staffers – including 38 principals – were involved in a scandal spread across dozens of schools in Atlanta from at least 2005 to 2010. The charges even include a former superintendent, Beverly Hall, who had been designated National Superintendent of the Year in 2009.

While the scope and seriousness of the test cheating is shocking, the indictment helps reinforce the fact that plenty of school personnel in Atlanta were willing to be whistle-blowers or informants. They either stood up to pressure from superiors and took a stand for honesty, or eventually came clean about their own complicity.

“I wanted to clear my conscience,” Jackie Parks, a former third-grade teacher at Venetian Hills Elementary School, told The New York Times. She'd agreed to wear a wire for investigators in order to record fellow teachers as they secretly erased wrong answers on state-required tests and changed them to correct ones.

Many school districts in the United States have recently discovered teachers or principals altering test scores to create a better impression of their schools or to earn more money. This has forced changes in testing procedures and even cast doubt on the wisdom of high-stakes testing as a tool of holding public education more accountable for what students actually learn.

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