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Walk of Shame

Former Atlanta schools chief Beverly Hall has been indicted in the long-simmering test-score scandal.

“Accountability,” that watchword of education reform, took on a sinister cast in March when a grand jury charged former Atlanta schools chief Beverly Hall and 34 others with crimes stemming from the most infamous of the school-cheating scandals that emerged with high-stakes testing.

Hall, who ran Atlanta Public Schools from 1999 to 2010, set high test-score targets for her principals. She awarded bonuses to those who met them; those who didn’t were often replaced. The New York Times reports that at Parks Middle School, the epicenter of the cheating scandal, eighth graders proficient in math rose from 24 percent to 86 percent after Christopher Waller became principal, in 2005. In reading, proficiency rose from 35 percent to 78 percent. Waller was among the indicted.

Jackie Parks, the third-grade Venetian Hills Elementary teacher who became a key witness for investigators, told the Times that teachers would work together during testing week, erasing wrong answers and filling in correct ones. Overseen by the principal, they wore gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints.

Rumors of cheating were rampant over the years. Reports that came to Hall’s office were ignored.

Scores rose, and Hall rose with them. In 2009, the AASA honored Hall as its superintendent of the year. Over the years, she received more than $580,000 in performance bonuses, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Now she faces charges of racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy, and making false statements and, if found guilty, up to 45 years in prison.

“She certainly wasn’t aware of any cheating on a scale that’s been alleged,” Hall’s attorney, Richard Deane, told the Journal-Constitution. He laid the blame on “misguided individuals” who were working “outside her direction and outside her vision.”

In the wake of similar scandals in Cleveland and El Paso, Texas, it seems that a full accounting of the fallout from a decade of high-stakes testing is just getting under way.

—Summer 2013—

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