Thursday, April 2, 2015

Eleven Atlanta Public School Defendants Convicted of Racketeering in Standardized Test Cheating Trial

After eight days of deliberations and five months of testimony, the verdicts in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial came in yesterday. The jury convicted eleven administrators and teachers and acquitted one teacher. Prosecutors argued that a cheating conspiracy was motivated by bonuses and promotions that APS educators received when students met proficiency standards mandated by the No Child Left Behind law. The APS defendants were found to have inflated students' test scores at several elementary schools by giving students test questions in advance, assisting students during tests, and having grade-changing parties to erase and fix wrong test answers. Essentially, the evidence showed that APS officials became obsessed with data and showing marked progress in standardized test scores in some APS elementary schools. The wheels came off, however, when those elementary students showed up in high school without the skills indicated by their previous test scores. The verdicts came in without the trial's central defendant, APS Superintendent Dr. Beverly Hall, who died in March. Dr. Hall allegedly pressured teachers and administrators to hit NCLB targets or face termination. The APS defendants were tried under Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) law, which we discussed in this post. (Georgia's RICO law eases the prosecution's burden to prove "an enterprise" and a "pattern of racketeering activity," both required under the federal RICO statute.) For a take on the pressure placed on teachers and administrators to comply with the APS' demands to show progress, see the New Yorker article on the cheating scandal here.

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