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Report Reveals Details in Test Cheating Scandal

ASSOCIATED PRESS | 7/18/2011, 2:46 p.m.

The possibility that there could have been cheating "gives me and him a false sense of security as to where he is," she said.

Uncertainty about her son's progress "has not afforded us the opportunity to do more remediation in those areas of weakness," Hayes-Tavares said. "It robbed us of those opportunities. We're going to try to play catch up now."

At Slater, investigators found multiple teachers changed answers on tests or allowed students to look up answers to questions. Teachers would gather in the school's media center to change wrong answers .....

with the blessing of administrators, investigators said.

For Renee Columbus, whose 4-year-old son is starting pre-kindergarten at one of the schools in the state investigation, news of the cheating probe was disheartening.

"Right now it's our only option," said Columbus, who lives in south Atlanta. "I'm hoping by the time he gets into kindergarten, we'll be in a different school district."

The fallout from the state report has only begun.

So far, at least four of the district's top administrators and two principals have been removed and put on paid leave. The head of the district's human resources department resigned after investigators said she destroyed documents and tried to cover up the extent of the cheating.

The schools could owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funding they received for good test performance -- money that would be lost at a time when the state's education budget has already been slashed by millions. Districts are being forced to lay off or furlough teachers and cut programs to make ends meet.

And at least one member of the Atlanta school board wants to reclaim tens of thousands of dollars in bonus money that former Superintendent Beverly Hall received for the high test scores.

Investigators said Hall, who retired just days before the investigation was made public, dismissed those who complained about cheating as naysayers trying to discredit the district's progress. The investigators said she either knew or should have known about the cheating.

"Dr. Hall and her senior cabinet accepted accolades when those below them performed well, but they wanted none of the burdens of failure," investigators wrote.

Hall's attorney has denied the allegations, and Hall has said she did not know about cheating in the district.

She apologized in a statement last week for "any shortcomings" that might have led to the widespread cheating.

"To the extent that I failed to take measures that would have prevented what the investigators have disclosed, I am accountable, as head of the school system, for failing to act accordingly," Hall wrote. "If I did anything that gave teachers the impression that I was unapproachable and unresponsive to their concerns, I also apologize for that."

The testing problems first came to light after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that some scores were statistically improbable. The state released audits of test results after the newspaper published its analysis.

Experts say the Atlanta cheating scandal has become the new rallying cry for education advocates and parents in other urban districts like Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., where cheating investigations are ongoing.

Bob Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which works to end abuses in standardized testing and wants changes made to the federal No Child Left Behind law, said many are wondering where the "next Atlanta" will be.

"Because of Atlanta, the media and policymakers are going back and looking at concerns raised about their states," Schaeffer said. "This is the top issue. When you see a story like this and see the incredible impact of the confessions, you start to look and say, 'Hey, is there something comparable going on here?'"