Three former teachers have been handed 20-year sentences for their part in the biggest exam cheating scandal to ever hit the US schools system. The teachers from Atlanta were among 11 who were convicted earlier this month for participating in widespread cheating that saw them changing students’ test scores in state assessments. Nine of the former school officials were sentenced to prison, with three being handed a judgement of 20-years, the maximum that was on offer to the courts and a far harsher sentence than expected. It had been expected that they would serve seven years behind bars and 13 years on probation. The remainder were given five-year sentences and are expected to spend one or two years in prison. Two officials were given weekend jail time and home confinement. An investigation dating back to 2009 found evidence of cheating taking place in 44 Atlanta schools and implicated nearly 180 school officials. The teachers were found to have altered students’ test scores, with some even holding “cheating parties” where they came together to alter exam papers. Some teachers even received bonuses linked to performance on the exams. It led to 35 teachers and administration staff initially being charged but with many choosing to cooperate in return for a plea bargain. Those handed the heftiest sentences this week were being charged for racketeering, in a case that was described to TES back in September as the “largest school cheating scandal in American education law history”, by Ronald Carlson, emeritus professor at the University of Georgia School of Law. Appeals are expected in the coming months, but educators said what happened in Atlanta was the product of a too heavy focus on students’ tests scores to hold teachers to account. When TES covered this story back in September Tim Callahan, a spokesperson for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, a statewide organisation of more than 84,000 teachers, administrators and support staff, said Atlanta showed that “very bad things may occur” when a system focused on test scores alone, rather than the quality of teaching. “If ever we needed a horrible demonstration that schools are not businesses, and student achievement is not something to be ‘scored’ like quarterly sales reports, this was ground zero,” he added.
Soul-searching at the ‘ground zero’ of high-stakes testing - 26 September 2014