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In Atlanta cheating scandal, one culprit may be standardized testing

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“Hopefully, this is now pulling the curtain away from what teachers and parents have been saying for two or three years now, which is that we are fixating on testing, as opposed to being fixated on teaching and learning.”

The scandal in Atlanta has gained particular attention since it seems to have been so widespread, and to have emanated from the very top, where Dr. Hall, the former superintendent, allegedly governed by fear and pushed principals to deliver results by any means necessary. During the decade she led the district, she replaced 90 percent of the principals, and focused unrelentingly on test scores.

The seeming turnaround that those scores saw brought her significant accolades and financial rewards. In 2009 she was named National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators, whose director said that Hall had “turned Atlanta into a model of urban school reform.” Atlanta was often cited as a success story by Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The story uncovered by Georgia’s investigation into whether there had been cheating – certainly one of the best-funded and most extensive investigations to date, with two special prosecutors appointed by Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue – showed a different picture.

Using whistleblowers and hidden wires, investigators uncovered a widespread system of corruption in which many teachers would allegedly gather in rooms during testing weeks to erase incorrect answers and replace them with correct ones.

At Parks Middle School, where investigators said some of the worst cheating took place, Principal Christopher Waller – one of the 35 people indicted, and formerly a principal lauded by Hall – allegedly organized “cheating parties” with teachers. Other defendants, say prosecutors, are guilty of lying to investigators, covering up wrongdoing, and retaliating against those who didn’t comply with their wishes.

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