Massive Teacher Cheating Scandal Erupts in Atlanta


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.


Isn't this just human nature? Isn't the real question "Why don't we assume this is going on everywhere?"


Try this:

I have to cheat, because of the standard tests.


It's not my fault. It is the fault of the standard tests.


The important thing here is to keep the standards set by No Child Left Behind, keep the pressure on. Sure, there are unethical people in positions where they don't belong who can't actually improve education, who can't actually do the job they were hired to do, and that are completely without honor. Keeping the pressure on will enable us to find them and sweep them away. And maybe this time, the boards and superintendents that are responsible for hiring their replacements will pick actual qualified and competent people that are upstanding and will set a good example for our children.

NEVER accept this as "human nature"! While there are people like this, there are many who hold themselves to a higher standard.


No Child Left Behind!


You do know that NCLB results in an increase of testing. Too much testing is actually *detrimental* to education. And of course, it offers plenty of incentives to cheat, and cheating doesn't help, either.


These tests are an assessment of the school not an assessment of the students. Having the school administer the very tests that will be used to measure them and be used to apply significant incentives is, frankly, irresponsible.

The tests need to be administered by an independent body.

Consider it this way:

"I sent the students home with final exams and told them to take them, grade them and let me know what they got. Everyone got an A. What a wonderful crop of geniuses!"


You know, there are so many standardized tests and industry certification exams with very rigorous controls and procedures to prevent cheating that it is kind of amazing that a school district/state would have a process that makes cheating so easy. Especially after the first Freakonomics came out...

When I took the Security+ exam, I had to practically strip to go into the testing room, they place you at a computer with no one taking the same test adjacent to you, the order and selection of your questions is randomized the moment you start your exam, the person supervising the exam doesn't know you or anything about the exam so they couldn't help (or hurt) you even if they wanted to, the exam room is under recorded surveillance, and on and on. Good luck cheating on that one.


Not that there is a fix-all to cheating, but wouldn't it minimize cheating if teachers swapped classrooms during the exams? Granted, if administrators are complicit in the cheating, then it may require a more drastic measure to be sure of the fidelity of the tests. Overall, though, it seems like having teachers proctor exams for classes other than their own would be a simple, no-cost preventative measure and thereby create a situation in which changing answers requires a conspiracy rather than presented as a simple, tempting opportunity.


Regarding the access of completed tests (or, perhaps, tests not taken that could be accessed and filled out by nefarious cheaters...): it also would be beneficial to secure the tests so that they cannot be removed from school grounds. Also, a basic, rather uncomplicated fix could be to administer the test in various forms such that the questions are identical but appeared on the test in random order (say, have test booklet A, test booklet B, etc), which would make it more complicated to change blocks of answers. Additionally, some of the testing could be done via computer. While probably not every student could be tested electronically, surely most schools have a computer lab space in which a suitable sample size could be randomly selected as a control group.


Good suggestions. Another possibility one is to increase the incentive not to cheat, by increasing the penalty for cheating.


Have to agree with RR1White: You don't ease up on the standards because there is cheating. This lets us know that we have a problem in our schools--kids are not able to pass the test unaided. This is surely part the responsibility of the teachers. Now that these bad teachers, caught cheating to cover up their failure, have been discovered, we can FIRE THEM and get in a new batch that will hopefully live up to a higher ethical standard.

It seems to me that the best way to do this is to ensure that each test booklet is different. Perhaps we could ask the SAME questions, in the SAME order...but put the answers in random order? Thus, if a student tries to cheat, he/she may put "A" because of their neighbor, but that will be the wrong answer for them. Moreover, when the teachers try to "fix" the answers later, they would have the overwhelming task of having to read EVERY SINGLE ANSWER to ensure that they had made the right choice--they could not just say "The answer to number 17 is D."

What a shame that these kids have been taught the worst academic lesson of all: CHEATING. Shame on these teachers! They should never teach again. As far as I'm concerned, the superintendent who created such a culture of underhanded practices ought to be sent to jail...if not Siberia. She sent the message that the way up is to cheat...but we're about to demonstrate the REAL LESSON...that cheaters never win.


Robert Rubenstein

It's Every Child Left Behind, because test scores are the sole determination for success in evaluating a student's progress and whether or not a school will receive funding. So, is it really surprising a school system would feel compelled to fudge or face the axe? I'm not exonerating them, but I can understand.

This is the same idiocy that believes a for-profit health insurance company is going to put patients first before satisfying their shareholders. If you believe that and that tests and only tests will teach your child, I have some great property in Florida for you to look at.

Candace Broecker

How can we expect our students to be honest if teachers and administrators are not? This will be the next generation of politicians, teachers, lawyers, etc. Will they be honest in their dealings?


The Department of Education is a useless institution; it's a criminal syndicate with no accountability and little to no? oversight. I know this from personal experience. All they do is waste tax payer money. In fact, the whole student loan industry is a cancerous racket meant not to help kids go to school, but to make outrageous profits while putting everyone into debt.


I can see why on the exams this year we had scantrons that only work with pen

Mike B

Since test scores don't exactly have the best relation to real world student ability and the attainment of such might actually be harmful to the academic career of children wouldn't it be best to just allow the cheating and declare victory so that testing can stop harming our schools?


first time here... wtf?... you're not even going to discuss the real issue?
here's a hint: test scores determine achievement gap

you guys are waaaaaaaay too PC for me