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Judge to Resentence Three Administrators in Atlanta Test-Cheating Case

By Corey Mitchell — April 21, 2015 2 min read
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The three former Atlanta school district administrators who received the harshest sentences among the educators convicted in a widespread test-cheating scandal could see their sentences reduced next week, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Associated Press are reporting.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter will convene a re-sentencing hearing on April 30 for former regional directors Tamara Cotman, Sharon Davis-Williams, and Michael Pitts, the three highest-ranking administrators found guilty in the case.

Last week, Judge Baxter sentenced them to serve seven years in prison, a decision their attorneys called unfair. During the sentencing, Baxter accused the educators of cheating thousands of students out of a quality education.

Prosecutors said the educators changed answers on student tests because of the pressure to boost test scores; many of them were eligible to receive monetary bonuses if the scores improved.

Twelve of the educators went on trial, and 11 were convicted. Several of the defendants were also convicted of other felonies, including theft, influencing witnesses, and false statements and writings.

“I think there were hundreds and thousands of kids who were lost in the schools,” Judge Baxter said during the sentencing. “That’s what gets lost. Everyone’s crying, but this is not a victimless crime that occurred in this city.”

In 2011, state investigators found that dozens of educators in the Atlanta school district were involved in cheating on 2009 state tests. The state probe came on the heels of a Journal-Constitution investigation that found evidence of suspect test scores.

Educators erased incorrect answers, and, in some cases, coached children to change their answers, the investigation found.

A staff member in the judge’s office would not comment on why the new hearing was scheduled, the Associated Press reported.

Cotman, Davis-Williams, and Pitts were among the convicted educators who turned down plea offers from the district attorney that could have allowed them to avoid prison.

Baxter had warned the educators they would face harsher sentences if they refused the plea deals, but some still did, in part because they did not want to give up their right to appeal their convictions.

A Georgia grand jury in 2013 originally indicted 35 Atlanta educators under the state’s racketeering statute, but many of them reached plea deals in exchange for their cooperation in the case.

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