(NaturalNews) In what is perhaps the largest school cheating scandal in US history, the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) system is in very hot water after a 413-page investigative report released by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal revealed that teachers and administrators from more than 75 percent of schools in district cheated on their standardized test scores in 2009 -- and such fraud has been taking place since at least 2001.
From the top down, district employees for years have been engaging in widespread test fraud that included holding cheating "parties" to collectively alter students' test scores.
Headed up by former APS head superintendent Beverly Hall, the culture of cheating within the school system has been so pervasive and effective that between 2002 and 2009, the district's eight graders falsely appeared to have the greatest overall improvement in the National Assessment of Education Progress' reading test scores compared to students from any other urban district in the US -- or so it seemed.
The 14-point jump was the result of concerted cheating efforts, as were many of the other accolades the district has received in recent years. And in 2009, Hall actually received a "Superintendent of the Year" award for the district's overall improvement in test scores, even though these scores were largely fabricated.
According to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Hall was responsible for tasking those below her with meeting lofty academic goals using whatever means necessary, even if it meant cheating.
The report also claims that she disregarded formal complaints made about misconduct, and routinely altered or destroyed them to avoid their potential exposure. Superintendents below her also conspired to silence those who tried to speak out about district corruption, and they even created incentives for educators to cheat.
The report goes on to indicate that teachers and administrators employed a variety of illicit tactics to improve their students' test scores. Some teachers deliberately placed low-performing students at desks next to high-performing students so that it would be easier for them to cheat, while others flat-out told their students which answers were correct as they were taking their tests.
And among those teachers who took the time to alter students' answers on tests after they had been taken, many wore rubber or latex gloves while they did so to avoid leaving their fingerprints on the paper.
One teacher who says she participated in cheating efforts because she feared retaliation if she failed to, told reporters that the entire district is run like the mob. And the report itself says that a "culture of fear and conspiracy of silence infected [the] school system, and kept many teachers from speaking freely about misconduct."
While some say the teachers involved should not be held accountable, many others insist there is no excuse for complying with corruption, even if it means losing one's job.
What teachers throughout the district have done, even if it was done reluctantly out of fear, is deceive the public, parents, and ultimately the students themselves.
Students who failed their competency tests, but that were corruptly given higher scores in secret, obviously were not adequately prepared to move on with their studies. And yet the vast majority of them "advanced" to higher learning levels regardless.
"You really cheat the children," said Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education, to 11Alive News, Atlanta's NBC news affiliate, in response to the report's release. "That's the part that's most disappointing about this whole situation."
In response to the APS situation, though, the Atlanta School Board recently decided to replace superintendent Beverly Hall with an interim superintendent.
Erroll Davis, former Chancellor of the University of Georgia school system, says he plans to thoroughly review the report and carefully come up with a plan of action to address the many problems that plague the district. The full response from the district can be viewed here: http://www.atlantapublicschools.us/atlantaps...
Meanwhile, there is no word on whether or not any of the educators involved in the cheating ring will face criminal charges. However altering or destroying public records, as former superintendent Hall is said to have done, is a felony. And under Georgia law, she and any others who did either that, or who lied to investigators, could face up to ten years in prison.
"Dr. Hall pledged 'full cooperation' with this investigation, but did not deliver," writes the report. "APS withheld documents and information from us. Many district officials we interviewed were not truthful."
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