The Scope of the Atlanta Cheating Scandal

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Times looks at the revised tenure of once celebrated school superintendent -- and zealous testing advocate -- Beverly L. Hall:


The devastating report came in July. Two longtime government lawyers who were asked by the governor to investigate charges that answers had been changed on state standardized tests found that students had sometimes simply been given correct answers. In other cases, they said, staff members erased wrong ones and filled in the right ones. One school held weekend pizza parties to fix tests. 

No criminal charges have been filed, but the district is scrambling to respond to two sweeping grand jury subpoenas. It will turn over at least 20 hard drives of information containing communication among school lawyers, board members and staff members, along with scanned records dating back to the 1990s, said Keith Bromery, spokesman for the district. 

The report asserted that Dr. Hall, while not tied directly to cheating or the direct target of a subpoena, had to know about it or should have. She tried to contain damaging information, it said, and did not do enough to investigate allegations, especially after 2005 when "clear and significant" warnings were raised. 

And she was, investigators and people who worked closely with her said, more interested in adoration than achievement. Some said they believed they would be ostracized if they did not deliver the results Dr. Hall wanted.

We haven't had a scandal like this in New York (fingers crossed) but it does seem rather inevitable. Perhaps the best thing about leaving the public school system is getting away from the relentless push toward test prep. My kid was at a pretty progressive school, but even there there was a rather manic climate among the parents when testing time came. One of my big concerns was that we were communicating a message of credentialism -- as opposed to a message of education.

The problem is that we have a great number of children who lack basic math and reading skills. Understandably, the schools have shifted to make sure that number shrinks. But if your kid has the basics, if you have other concerns about their development, and if you believe they need something more direct and tailor-made, the draw of public school weakens. 

And then there was the Cathleen Black affair which made the whole reform business look like the latest celebrity pet cause.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/09/the-scope-of-the-atlanta-cheating-scandal/244736/