A key witness in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal recently admitted to being the mastermind behind cheating at Parks Middle School.
The school had been on the state needs improvement list when Christopher Waller took the position of principal at the school in 2005. Waller said that many of the children coming in from feeder elementary schools were not performing at the level they were said to be at, according to their CRCT exam scores.
“It wasn’t the children’s fault that they were so far behind,” Waller said. “Some of them didn’t know that they were so far behind.”
Waller said after he shared his suspicions with his area supervisor, Mike Pitts, he was told, “You can’t go around accusing people. Keep your mouth shut.”
Waller then decided to begin cheating himself. He gained the support of several educators in the school, who he said helped him in the process. He illegally obtained answers to the CRCT and either handed out answers ahead of time or changed wrong answers to read correctly after students had completed the exams.
By 2008, every seventh grader in the school had scored perfectly on the CRCT in science. Waller said Pitts had then called him and said, “Looks like y’all cheating over there.”
Waller said that while it was well known that cheating was taking place within APS, it was not discussed.
“Principals didn’t get together and sit around a table and talk about what we’re going to do to make target and how we were going to cheat,” he said.
The cheating was not only seen at Parks Middle School. Three elementary teachers at Dunbar Elementary School sat in the computer lab changing student answers to exams, according to testimony from a former colleague, who admitted that she too had been cheating. The teachers all face charges of racketeering and making false statements. In an analysis completed by the state, an unusually high quantity of wrong-to-right erasures was discovered on standardized tests taken by students of the teachers in 2009.
According to former Dunbar Elementary School second-grade teacher Rose Neal, no one within the room had suggested that cheating was wrong or that they should stop, including former Dunbar testing coordinator Lera Middlebrooks.
Middlebrooks stated that while she did notice some teachers making eraser marks on their exams, her view did not allow her to see if they were changing answers. However, in later testimony she admitted to asking the teachers to change the answers in order to meet statewide targets.
She added that former Dunbar principal Betty Greene had asked her to do “this one favor,” adding that if district and federal No Child Left Behind targets weren’t met, there would be “changes,” including job losses at the school.
While Greene did not specifically ask her to cheat, Middlebrooks assumed that that is what she wanted her to do.