U.S. Supreme Court Won't Hear Atlanta Test-Cheating Case

Tamara Cotman, center, was among several educators convicted in 2015 on charges of racketeering in a conspiracy in the Atlanta Public Schools in which educators changed students’ answers on standardized tests in order to collect bonuses and raises based on the fraudulent scores. She and another former Atlanta educator appealed their convictions to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has declined to hear their case.
Tamara Cotman, center, was among several educators convicted in 2015 on charges of racketeering in a conspiracy in the Atlanta Public Schools in which educators changed students’ answers on standardized tests in order to collect bonuses and raises based on the fraudulent scores. She and another former Atlanta educator appealed their convictions to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has declined to hear their case.
—Kent D. Johnson/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP
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The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear an appeal by two former educators convicted more than three years ago in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating case.

In 2015, a Fulton County jury found Tamara Cotman, who worked for APS as a school reform team executive director, and Angela Williamson, a former Dobbs Elementary teacher, guilty of racketeering in a districtwide conspiracy in which educators corrected student answers on standardized tests and collected bonuses and raises based on the falsely inflated scores.

Williamson also was found guilty of four counts of false statements and writings and false swearing in the long-running case.

The two women were among 11 former educators convicted of racketeering and the only two who went directly to the Georgia Court of Appeals, which last year upheld their convictions.

In April, the Supreme Court of Georgia denied their petition to appeal that decision, and so Cotman and Williamson then turned to the nation’s highest court.

But the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition today without comment, which is how the court disposes of many cases brought before it.

In the U.S. Supreme Court petition submitted in July, the defendants’ attorneys argued the jury received improper instructions before returning the verdict and brought up a question of double jeopardy, which bars a defendant acquitted of a crime from being retried for the same offense.

In a trial connected to the cheating scandal that took place before the major one involving multiple defendants, Cotman was found not guilty of trying to influence a witness; her attorney argued the prosecution presented the same witnesses and “repeated the same theory presented in the first trial,” according to court documents.

Cotman was sentenced to three years in prison and Williamson to two years. They, and several others who were convicted and are seeking a new trial in Fulton County Superior Court, have remained free on bond pending the outcome of the various appeals.

It was not immediately clear what will happen next for Cotman and Williamson.

Prosecutors said Cotman failed to report cheating complaints and punished those who reported concerns. At trial, a former APS reading specialist said she was transferred against her wishes to another school because her students weren’t making enough progress. She testified that Cotman told her the transfer was because she “wasn’t playing for the right team.”

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Teachers at Dobbs Elementary testified Williamson taught them to cheat and said they saw her cheating. Several students also said the former teacher gave them exam answers but said they didn’t report her because she told them: “If you tell anyone, that will be the last person you tell, I promise you that,” according to court documents.

The cheating scandal came to light after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported a decade ago about suspicious scores on state standardized tests.

An ensuing state investigation found evidence of widespread cheating in Atlanta schools.

The original indictment brought charges against 35 educators, 21 of whom pleaded guilty to lesser charges. All but one of the 12 who went to trial were found guilty. Two people, including former Atlanta superintendent Beverly Hall, died before going to trial.


Related Video

In one of the nation's largest cheating scandals, nearly 200 Atlanta educators were suspected of erasing and correcting student answers on standardized tests in order to boost scores. Reporter Lisa Stark spoke with those affected by the scandal, including an educator, a judge, a district attorney, and students:




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