Assessment

Four Educators Resign in Ga. Cheating Probe

By Christina A. Samuels — January 10, 2012 3 min read
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Two principals and two teachers in a Georgia district have resigned in the wake of a state investigation that showed widespread cheating on the 2009 administration of a state exam.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the same organization that examined cheating allegations in the Atlanta district, was in charge of the probe into the 16,000-student Dougherty school system. Both Atlanta and Dougherty had shown an unusual number of wrong-to-right erasures in an examination of the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, which the state uses to determine adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Then-Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, ordered an investigation in August 2010, which has continued under the current Republican governor, Nathan Deal.

The report, which was released in two volumes last month, says investigators found evidence of cheating in at least 11 of 26 schools in the district, which serves a student population that is primarily low-income and African-American. Eighteen educators acknowledged in the report that they cheated, and several others were implicated by name. All the teachers who confessed to test tampering have been reassigned pending an investigation.

The report says that investigators conducted more than 650 interviews, including some in which they gave lie-detector tests. They say educators were driven by fear of failure and by a desire for their schools to meet AYP. And, much like the Atlanta report, investigators had harsh words for the school personnel they said were involved.

“The disgraceful situation we found in the Dougherty County school system is a tragedy, sadly illustrated by a comment made by a teacher who said that her 5th grade students could not read, yet did well on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests,” the report says. “This incredible statement from a teacher in a school where the principal flatly refused to cooperate with our investigation is indicative of what we found in many of the schools we visited.”

Investigators did not find that Sally Whatley, the superintendent at the time of the 2009 test administration, or her senior staff knew about the misconduct. But the report says “they should have known and were ultimately responsible for accurately testing and assessing students in this system. In that duty, they failed.”

Conspiracy to Cheat

The current superintendent, Joshua W. Murfree Jr., was appointed in June 2010. In a statement, he said “it is disheartening to learn that a number of teachers and administrators exercised poor judgment that led to unethical and, in some cases, illegal activity regarding CRCT testing procedures."As in the Atlanta report, the narratives of test tampering at individual schools in Dougherty offer some of the most sensational details. At Jackson Heights Elementary, the report says that the principal coordinated cheating by allowing teachers to enter their colleagues’ classrooms and give answers to the students. The investigators released an email from Jackson Heights Principal LaZoria Walker Brown to another teacher, saying that the tests were stressful and “these children don’t really care because they don’t have parents who set standards and high expectations for them. Sorry to say this but it is true.”

Ms. Brown was one of the principals whose resignation was accepted by the school board last week, along with two teachers from her school.

The second principal who resigned was Alene Pringle, from West Town Elementary. In the report, a teacher is quoted saying that Ms. Pringle asked her to “look at the children’s answer sheets and make sure most of them pass.” The report also indicates the principal told that teacher not to tell investigators anything. The investigators said they tried to speak to Ms. Pringle several times, but she denied knowing about any cheating and, during her last interview, asserted her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself.

State investigators had said when the Atlanta report was released that they were turning their attention to Dougherty County. The school system had come to state attention before for allegations of cheating, but was exonerated by a district-hired investigator who was “wholly unqualified” for that job, the state investigators say.

John Barge, the state school superintendent, said the report highlights a need for a “different, more thorough accountability system” like the one sketched out in Georgia’s NCLB waiver request to the U.S. Department of Education.

“Relying on a single test to determine a student’s and a school’s academic success is plagued with problems,” Mr. Barge said.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 11, 2012 edition of Education Week as Rampant Cheating Found in Second Georgia District

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