The test cheating scandal at the Atlantic Public School System has hit a a peak with the arrest and indictment of Beverly L. Hall who was the district superintendent at the time of alleged infractions and who retired in 2011. Along with 35 other Atlanta educators and administrators, she is being charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. The prosecutors are asking the judge to impose a $7.5 million bond.
If the charges against Hall are proven true, she could be facing up to 45 years in prison. She is accused of using methods such as coercing teachers to engage in systematic answer changing and similarly-underhanded means to show that her district was performing better than the schools making up much wealthier districts nearby.
The outstanding performance of her schools on the state's standardized exams put her at the forefront of the education reform movement, and she was introduced and frequently mentioned as a success story by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. In 2009 the American Association of School Administrators named her the superintendent of the year – the honor that brought her a visit to the White House.
In addition, she was amply remunerated for her schools' performance. Hall earned more than half a million dollars in performance bonuses over the course of her employment as a superintendent.
On Friday, prosecutors essentially said it really was too good to be true. Dr. Hall and the 34 teachers, principals and administrators "conspired to either cheat, conceal cheating or retaliate against whistle-blowers in an effort to bolster C.R.C.T. scores for the benefit of financial rewards associated with high test scores," the indictment said, referring to the state's Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.
Reached late Friday, Richard Deane, Dr. Hall's lawyer, said they were digesting the indictment and making arrangements for bond. "We're pretty busy," he said.
When asked for a comment, Deane continued to repeat the same thing he's been saying since the arrest: that Hall is denying the allegation and says that she has never participated in any scheme to cheat or defraud her district. Deane added that they welcome an opportunity to face the court an receive full vindication.
In a 2011 interview with The New York Times, Dr. Hall said that people under her had allowed cheating but that she never had. "I can't accept that there is a culture of cheating," she said.
Paul L. Howard Jr., the district attorney, said that under Dr. Hall's leadership, there was "a single-minded purpose, and that is to cheat."
"She is a full participant in that conspiracy," he said. "Without her, this conspiracy could not have taken place, particularly in the degree it took place."
The two and a half year investigation saw one elementary school teacher âflip' to turn state's evidence, for which she wore a wire to record conversations with teachers and administrators that allegedly demonstrate an elaborate conspiracy within the Atlanta district to cheat.