Investigators Offer a Look Inside Atlanta’s Cheating Scandal

By Christina A. Samuels — July 06, 2011 1 min read
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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has published on its website the entire 400-page state report that alleges that principals and teachers changed student answers on state tests in order to get higher scores.

The investigation focused on the 2009 administration of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, or CRCT. But confessions of cheating went back several years before that test, to as early as 2001, said investigators, who also conducted an erasure analysis on test sheets.

The conclusion in the report is scathing and unequivocal: “Without question, cheating occurred in [Atlanta Public Schools] on the CRCT in 2009 and previous years. The erasure analysis is no longer a mere red flag, but is supported by confessions and other evidence of cheating in 78.6 percent of the elementary and middle schools we investigated.”

But the real jaw-dropping allegations are embedded in the detailed descriptions of how cheating was carried out at various schools. The first school investigators mention in the report is Parks Middle, described in a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation as “beating the odds.” From the report:

Dr. Alfred Kiel was the testing coordinator for this school. He would not allow cheating so Principal [Christopher] Waller orchestrated Kiel's absence from the school building so the cheating could take place. On one occasion in 2009, Principal Waller took Kiel out for a "retirement lunch." In another year, Principal Waller scheduled an impromptu after-school dance so that the teachers could stay late in the aftemoon and cheat without raising suspicion. Kiel once noticed that things in his office had been disturbed while he was out and became angry. After that occasion, teacher Damany Lewis took pictures of Kiel's office before he altered the tests so that everything would be put back in exactly the same place so as not to raise Kiel's suspicions.

Cheating occured at that school every year from 2006 to 2010, said investigators, who obtained information from teachers at the school. During that time, test scores for students rose by improbably high margins; for example, the math test’s passing rate rose from 24 percent to 81 percent between 2005 and 2006.

Some teachers complained about Waller in 2006, and a district investigation did find evidence that the tests may have been compromised. Waller was not punished, but he did start looking for the whistle-blowers, investigators said in the report:

Our investigation revealed that Tameka Butler Grant, a teacher at Parks Middle School, submitted the last two complaints against Waller. According to Ms. Grant, Christopher Waller told her that he was "going to get rid" of her. And at the end of the 2006 school year, he did. Grant was transferred to another school and ultimately terminated from the district. Waller also "got rid" of Kelley Collins and Fabiola Aurelien. Like Grant, Collins and Aurelien gave Dukes information supporting the allegations against Waller. Later, Principal Waller flaunted his removal of certain employees from the school, stating in an article published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation; "If you have folks on the team who don't think you can win, you are in trouble So we had to get some people off the bus first. Then, we had to get the right people on the bus."

Waller denied to investigators that he was involved in any tampering, saying that it must have occurred after test sheets left the building. Now a member of the 48,000-student district’s central office staff, he told investigators under oath that he was not aware of anyone erasing answers at Parks. He offered investigators several defenses for why he would not have been involved in cheating, including that he would not compromise his integrity for his principal’s salary of approximately $100,000 per year, and that he was a Methodist minister.

Photo: Former Atlanta Superintendent of Schools Beverly Hall (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.