By guest blogger Madeline Will
A former top state education official took the witness stand for much of the sixth week of the Atlanta test-cheating trial, testifying how she uncovered telling signs of cheating in the Atlanta district and her attempts to tell then-superintendent Beverly Hall.
Kathleen Mathers, the former executive director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, oversaw a statewide analysis of erasures on answer sheets for the 2009 state tests that found strong indications of cheating across the state, but particularly in Atlanta. That analysis then led to a state investigation that found rampant cheating across the district and the eventual indictments of 35 former teachers and administrators, including Hall. Twelve of them are now standing trial on a series of charges for their alleged roles in the scandal.
Hall, a former national superintendent of the year, is not standing trial with the rest of the defendants because she is undergoing treatments for Stage IV breast cancer. Her trial has been postponed indefinitely.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Mathers testified that in 2010, state officials showed Hall a list of the Atlanta schools suspected of cheating on state tests, with the schools least likely to have cheated at the top of the page.
“So, we don’t look so bad,” Hall said, according to Mather’s testimony.
But when Mathers told Hall to look at the second page, she said there was an awkward silence as the superintendent realized most schools in her district had been flagged for suspicions of cheating.
Hall has been accused of setting high academic targets that school leaders were pressured into meeting and tying those targets to pay bonuses. The school leaders then allegedly pressured teachers into correcting students’ wrong answers on state tests.
Dorothea Wilson, a former Parks Middle School teacher, testified this week that she helped with the test-cheating because she was scared Parks’ then-principal, Christopher Waller, would otherwise transfer her to a different school.
“You either conform or you was reformed,” she said, according to the AJC. “It’s Atlanta Public Schools.”
Sonny Perdue, Georgia’s former governor, is expected to take the stand next week. Perdue had called for a state investigation into the suspicious wrong-to-right erasure results on tests after both the district’s internal probe and a blue-ribbon commission’s investigation fell short, according to the AJC.
The trial started at the end of September, and according to the AJC, prosecutors have said they plan to rest their case sometime in January.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.