Atlanta Cheating Trial Judge Is ‘Somewhat Doubtful’ About Conspiracy Charges

By Madeline Will — December 07, 2014 2 min read
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In the ninth week of the Atlanta test-cheating trial, the judge presiding over the case suggested the prosecution and defense should consider reaching a compromise, and expressed doubts about the racketeering charge facing the educators on trial.

Twelve former Atlanta educators are currently standing trial for a series of charges related to their alleged roles in the test-cheating scandal, including conspiring to inflate students’ scores on state standardized tests.

“I’m just saying usually if there’s some division, there’s a compromise,” Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter said, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Everybody is sitting around like this is a fun ride. But it’s serious.”

He also said that he was “somewhat doubtful” about the racketeering charge, which is the most serious charge facing all the defendants. If convicted, that charge carries a minimum five-year sentence and a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

All but one of the defendants also are facing lesser felony charges, which could result in potential prison time. The jurors could still find the defendants guilty of racketeering.

Among this week’s witnesses was Christopher Waller, former principal of Parks Middle School, who testified that his boss—regional supervisor Michael Pitts who is now on trial—had to know there was something wrong. Waller was one of the many former educators who pleaded guilty in deals with the prosecution and will not have to stand trial (35 former teachers and administrators were indicted last April).

According to the AJC, Waller testified that students who had come from feeder elementary schools were performing below what their previous test scores would have indicated. He said he told Pitts that cheating must have happened at the elementary schools, even showing him a student who tested well in elementary school but couldn’t keep up with the class in a reading lesson.

But Waller said Pitts told him to stop making those accusations without evidence—and threatened to send high-performing elementary school students to other middle schools, according to the AJC.

After that, and considering the high targets set by then-Superintendent Beverly Hall, Waller said he decided to orchestrate cheating at Parks by correcting wrong answers on the state standardized tests. Parks, which had a history of failing performance on the state tests, saw a dramatic turnaround in test scores which led to cash bonuses for all school employees, he testified.

For more on the trial this week, and to stay tuned next week, follow the AJC‘s coverage. You can also catch up on the previous eight weeks with our roundups, starting with last week’s.

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