In the second week of testimony in the Atlanta cheating scandal trial, former educators described how they corrected students’ answers on state content tests to make the scores better than they actually were—and, in a bit of courtroom drama, a former principal changed his testimony on the witness stand, then failed to show up for crossexamination.
Prosecutors are charging that a dozen former teachers and administrators in the Atlanta school district lied and cheated to meet high academic targets set by retired superintendent Beverly Hall, and to earn pay bonuses and other job perks.
The high-profile trial—which started at the end of September—comes nearly 18 months after a Fulton County grand jury indicted 35 former teachers and administrators, including Hall, on a range of conspiracy and racketeering charges. Prosecutors struck plea deals with many of them in exchange for their testimony.
Hall, whose trial has been delayed indefinitely while she undergoes treatments for cancer, is a former national superintendent of the year.
Armstead Salters, a former principal of C.L. Gideons Elementary School, had testified on Tuesday that neither Hall nor former regional executive director Michael Pitts had encouraged him to cheat, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That account contradicted his plea deal, in which he has agreed to testify that he had no choice but to encourage and aid cheating at his school because of pressure from Hall and Pitts.
On Tuesday, he testified that it was the school’s testing coordinator who allowed teachers to correct students’ answer sheets on state content tests and that he knowingly signed off on altered test scores. But he was reluctant to say that he was the one who gave the orders, according to 11Alive, Atlanta’s NBC affiliate.
But on Wednesday, Gideons’ former testing coordinator Sheridan Rogers strongly contradicted her former boss, and testified that Salters would slam his fist on his desk when giving her orders to give the standardized tests and answer sheets to teachers so they could correct students’ wrong answers, the AJC reported. She said she told Salters the cheating needed to stop, but he “got a little puffy with” her. Her testimony will continue Thursday.
Salters was supposed to continue his examination by attorneys on Wednesday, but didn’t return to court. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter ordered prosecutors to find Salters, or the police would. Judge Baxter said Salters was a hostile witness after his change in testimony.
Former Gideons 5th-grade teacher Oliver Banks testified on Wednesday that he and at least three other teachers would meet and correct students’ answers on the state tests. He said they met at the home of Bernadine Macon, also a 5th grade teacher, who would serve fish and grits for the occasion, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Macon is supposed to testify Thursday.
“I know it was wrong. I really knew it was wrong,” Banks said, according to the AJC.
Banks also testified that Salters told the 5th-grade teachers to “stick with the plan” once the governor’s special investigators started looking into the cheating scandal, meaning not to dilvuge that cheating had occured. Banks testified that Salters told the teachers, “they can’t prove that.”
The trial for the 12 former educators is expected to last several months. It continues today—for up-to-the-minute coverage, follow the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.