35 Indicted in Massive School Cheating Scandal

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By Chelsea J. Carter

ATLANTA (CNN) — Thirty-five Atlanta Public Schools educators and administrators were indicted Friday in connection with alleged cheating in standardized testing, one of the largest cheating scandals to hit the nation’s public education system.

Among those indicted by a Fulton County, Georgia, grand jury was Beverly Hall, the former schools superintendent who gained national recognition in 2009 for turning around Atlanta’s school system.

“She was a full participant in that conspiracy,” Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told reporters during a news conference announcing the charges.

The alleged cheating at Atlanta Public Schools is believed to date back to early 2001, according to the indictment, when standardized testing scores began to turn around in the 50,000-student school district.

According to the indictment, Hall placed unreasonable goals on educators and “protected and rewarded those who achieved targets by cheating. It also alleges she fired principals who failed to achieve goals and “ignored suspicious” test score gains throughout the school system.

The indictment follows a state investigation that was launched after a report by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper found large, unexplained jumps in test score gains in some Atlanta schools.

A state review determined that some cheating had occurred in more than half of the district’s elementary and middle schools. About 180 teachers were initially implicated in the scandal.

The indictment is the bookend to what was once touted as a model for the nation’s school districts after its test scores dramatically improved in some of its toughest schools.

In 2009, Hall was named the National Superintendent of the Year by the Schools Superintendents Association, which said her “leadership has turned Atlanta into a model of urban school reform.”

But the indictment paints another picture of Hall, who resigned from her position in 2011 following a state investigation that lambasted her leadership and found widespread cheating in dozens of Atlanta schools.

“It is further part of the conspiracy and endeavor that targets achieved through cheating were used by Beverly Hall to obtain substantial performance bonuses,” the indictment said.

Hall has denied any role in the cheating. In 2011, she told The New York Times that her subordinates had allowed the cheating to occur, but denied she was involved.

There were 65 counts in the indictment, which included charges of racketeering, influencing a witness, theft by taking and making false statements or writings.

Also named were:

— Milicent Few, director of human resources at Atlanta Public Schools.

— Tamara Cotman, a regional supervisor who oversaw dozens of Atlanta’s schools.

— Sharon Davis-Williams, who also oversaw a region of Atlanta’s schools.

— Michael Pitts, who oversaw a region of Atlanta’s schools.

— Christopher Waller, principal at Parks Middle School in Atlanta, where at least four teachers are accused of conspiring to cheat on standardized tests.

CNN’s Dave Alsup and Darrell Calhoun contributed to this report.

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