Published Online: April 25, 2012

Atlanta Panel Upholds Termination of Testing Coordinator

Donald Bullock, the testing coordinator at Atlanta's Usher Collier Heights Elementary in 2009, will likely lose his job.

An Atlanta Public Schools tribunal, which was formed to hear the employment cases of educators implicated in systemic test cheating, decided Tuesday to uphold the superintendent's recommendation to fire him.

Bullock is the third APS employee to appear before the tribunal, but he's first who once held a leadership role. Earlier in the day, the district began laying out its case against another leader, Tabeeka Jordan, a former Deerwood Elementary School assistant principal. She is accused of hiring and then conspiring with a testing coordinator to change answers on Georgia's Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.

A state investigation uncovered evidence that 180 APS educators were involved in test cheating. Roughly 90 are still employed by the district on paid leave, which is costing APS about $1 million a month.

APS staffers, for perhaps as long as a decade, worked in secret to transform testing failures into successes by changing wrong test answers into correct ones, the investigation concluded. Some administrators either covered up the behavior or turned a blind eye to it, the investigation said.

Bullock, who was responsible for overseeing the CRCT at Usher, is accused of pressuring teachers to cheat. Through three days of testimony, Bullock and his attorney denied the charges. But last week, several teachers pointed a collective finger at Bullock, accusing him of handing them completed tests in violation of testing protocol with the expectation that teachers would correct wrong answers.

APS Attorney Erick Burroughs in his closing arguments Tuesday called Bullock, an former Army major with 16 years experience at APS, a liar and a cheater. Burroughs said the teachers who testified against Bullock had all lost their jobs and had no incentive to lie—unlike Bullock, who Burroughs said wanted to save his job and his reputation.

"[Those teachers] have lost everything," Burroughs said.

Bullock's attorney Daniel Digby declined to comment on the tribunal's decision. An APS spokesman also refused to comment.

Digby spent more than a day challenging APS's case and the state's test cheating investigation. He said Bullock was not in school when some of the cheating allegedly occurred, including a day he had a medical procedure. He said state investigators were the ones pressuring teachers to validate their conclusion of widespread cheating.

"It doesn't add up," Digby said, explaining state investigators were simply "looking for somebody higher up" to blame.

Burroughs, however, said Bullock was responsible for not only breaking testing rules but for also cheating students out of needed help. He talked of his experience in Memphis schools, where he said bad teachers would give him exemplary grades for minimal work. When he took standardized tests, Burroughs said he struggled.

"I was one of the fortunate ones," Burroughs said. The students of the APS teachers and administrators accused of test cheating might not be as fortunate, he said, when they realize "I cannot do this."

Bullock's case will now go before the school board at its next meeting, which will decide whether to fire Bullock.

Bullock allegedly gave teachers the tests their students had taken so they could change incorrect answers to correct ones.

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As APS wraps Bullock's case, it begins the one against Jordan, the former Deerwood principal.

Her attorney, George Lawson, opened her case Tuesday by trying to get elements of it thrown out. He contested the premise of the cheating charges against her, which are based in part on an arcane statistical analysis of erasure marks on tests.

"To my knowledge, it has never been accepted by any court in this country," Lawson said of the analysis, which has been used to challenge test results in other school systems. The analysis looks for an inordinate number of wrong answers that were rubbed out and replaced by correct answers.

At Deerwood, 48 percent of the classrooms were flagged for excessive erasures on the 2009 tests. In six of the classrooms, the odds of those erasures occurring "without adult intervention or cheating" was no better than one in a trillion, according to the charge letter APS sent Jordan outlining why the district intended to fire her.

Jordan is accused of recruiting a retired educator as a test coordinator. That retiree and another one allegedly erased and changed student answers on tests in 2008 and 2009, while Jordan watched.

The hearing officer, O.V. Brantley, denied most of Lawson's motions, but allowed the hearing to be postponed until May 22 so Lawson can gather personnel files and other records. He said he'd asked for them but APS had not provided them.

After the morning hearing, which lasted about two hours, Jordan had no comment except this: "I absolutely deny all of the allegations."

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