Opening statements for the criminal trial of a dozen Atlanta public school teachers caught cheating on standardized testing are now, finally, underway.
The trial so far has seen prosecutors argue that the educators were active members of a “widespread, cleverly disguised” effort to cheat by increasing standardized test scores in order to gain bonuses and job protection.
However, opening statements from defense lawyers are beginning to cast doubt on the situation, suggesting that witnesses are not as trustworthy as they appear to be. According to the lawyers, some witnesses have contradicted themselves after having received plea deals in exchange for their testimony, or were not of upstanding character.
If found guilty, the educators could face up to 20 years in prison.
Opening statements by assistant district attorney Fani Willis slammed the educators for using the “legitimate enterprise” of the public school system for illegal activities. Willis also alleged that those who spoke out about the ongoing cheating were punished within the school system.
According to Willis, the biggest losers are the children who missed out on needed extra instruction and supplemental services. Some were fed answers by their teachers as they took the exams. Meanwhile, parents were told their child’s scores were accurate.
“Children learned just terrible morals,” Willis said. “They were taught cheating was a way to succeed.”
Attorney Annette Green, representing former first-grade teacher Shani Robinson, said the teacher only erased stray marks on her student’s exams.
“This was not cheating,” Greene said. “First-graders doodle all over the exams.”
Bob Rubin, the attorney representing former Dobbs Elementary School Principal Dana Evans, claims that Evans is being falsely accused of failing to stop cheating that had been going on prior to her tenure.
“She ruffled feathers,” Mr. Rubin said. “She created enemies in the people who were too lazy, malcontented, ineffective, unwilling to change, unwilling to even come to school on time.”
Former superintendent Beverly Hall pleaded not guilty to racketeering charges. However, her trial is still on-going as she is battling cancer and has been deemed unfit to stand trial.
Of the dozen defendants, all have pled not guilty to charges of racketeering. All but one face a variety of lesser charges, which they have also all pleaded not guilty to.
At the same time, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing released a study they say shows that what is happening in Atlanta is actually a common occurrence throughout the country. The organization confirmed cases of changing test scores in 39 states and Washington, DC.
“Unfortunately, Atlanta is just the tip of a test cheating iceberg,” the organization’s public education director, Bob Schaeffer, said in a statement.
Cheating has plagued the district for some time now. In 2011, a state investigation uncovered 178 principals and teachers who had been cheating on standardized tests. Dozens of those involved have resigned or were fired, and 21 educators ended up pleading guilty to charges of obstruction or making false statements.