The morning of a Carver High School of Technology (Georgia) writing test in September 2009, school administrators pulled several Carver juniors, some with learning disabilities, aside. What the students had in common was the likelihood of failing. And the school didn't feel like it could risk them lowering the school's odds of meeting its do-or-die performance targets, writes Alan Judd at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The episode reflects the pattern of academic irregularities that has emerged in a new investigation of Atlanta's high schools.
Earlier in the summer an investigation conducted by the state of Georgia found that rampant, systematic cheating has taken place in the Atlanta public school system. The cheating took place in the city's public schools that had a long-standing reputation of serious problems.
The questionable activities in high schools appear to be less systemic than the cheating that has roiled Atlanta's elementary and middle schools, where attention focused on a single exam: the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.
At one Atlanta high school, failure literally was not an option; the minimum grade for all students was 70. At another, the principal allowed no more than 10 percent of seniors to fail, regardless of their grades. Another principal allegedly ordered teachers to change grades and ignore absences so students could receive diplomas, writes Judd.
Teachers at several schools apparently obtained advance copies of state tests and gave students the actual questions during practice exams.
Superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, Erroll Davis, announced that he has ordered audits of standardized test scores in the district's 23 high schools and of graduation rates and grading procedures, writes Judd.
"One of the first thoughts I had when I came here was if you had discovered testing irregularities in the k-8 system, why should you assume it would automatically stop at the high school system?" Davis said in an interview. "I have no reason to believe there's any systematic or pervasive cheating going on, although I have taken the appropriate risk-management steps to give me the assurance these things are not going on. I don't want to leave it to good will or assumptions."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's examination suggests the high stakes of the initiative drove some educators to achieve their mandated goals through illicit means or, at the least, poor judgment. Producing the desired results — or failing to — carried enormous implications for many an educator's career.
Last month, two of the teachers implicated in this summer's cheating scandal were cleared of wrong-doing and were allowed to return to work.
APS spokesman Keith Bromery said that the district was informed that there was not enough evidence to charge either of the teachers.