An investigation into Atlanta’s public school system has uncovered evidence that teachers and principals have been secretly erasing and correcting answers on students’ tests for as long as a decade. A state investigation found that 178 educators at 44 of the district’s 56 schools engaged in cheating. The report is a huge blow to an urban school district that for years was hailed as one of the country’s most successful due to increased student performance.
From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Superintendent Beverly Hall and her top aides ignored, buried, destroyed or altered complaints about misconduct, claimed ignorance of wrongdoing and accused naysayers of failing to believe in poor children’s ability to learn.
For years — as long as a decade — this was how the Atlanta school district produced gains on state curriculum tests. The scores soared so dramatically they brought national acclaim to Hall and the district, according to an investigative report released Tuesday by Gov. Nathan Deal.
In the report, the governor’s special investigators describe an enterprise where unethical — and potentially illegal — behavior pierced every level of the bureaucracy, allowing district staff to reap praise and sometimes bonuses by misleading the children, parents and community they served.
The report accuses top district officials of wrongdoing that could lead to criminal charges in some cases.
A local TV station has posted the entire report on its website, which includes the following nugget:
Among the other findings, the report stated that the changing of answers was often done at weekend gatherings, or so-called erasure parties. The report stated that children were denied special-educational assistance because their falsely reported CRCT scores were too high, and during testing, teachers pointed to the correct answer while standing at students’ desks.
This is the second teacher scandal to erupt in a large metro area this year. In March, a USA Today investigation found evidence of teacher cheating among some of D.C.’s highest-performing public schools. Teacher cheating is a subject we’re pretty familiar with at Freakonomics. Levitt and Brian Jacob investigated teacher cheating in Chicago schools. Their findings were detailed in Chapter 1 of Freakonomics. Since Chicago schools would destroy the physical tests shortly after they were taken, Levitt and Jacob had to come up with their own method of detecting cheating, rather than use erasure analysis. So they developed new tools for identifying strings of unlikely answers. Read the full version of their paper here. It would be interesting to see what Levitt and Jacob’s methods would turn up when applied to Atlanta’s decade of altered tests, which fortunately for investigators, remained intact.