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Atlanta's Cheating Aftermath: What Other Districts Are Doing

The news out of Atlanta late last week is still breathtaking: 35 educators, including former superintendent Beverly Hall, stand criminally charged for their alleged role in a broad conspiracy to cheat on state tests and make the district's academic progress look better than it truly was.

Education leaders and legal experts alike say the prosecution of these educators using Georgia's RICO law—a statute usually reserved for going after organized crime—would be unprecedented. If Hall's case ends up going to trial, it will surely be one of the more dramatic episodes we've seen in the mostly drama-free world of education policy and practice.

In the meantime, other urban school systems are dealing with their own cheating issues, though none are like what state investigators describe as transpiring in Atlanta. But it's well worth noting how these cases are playing out in places like Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Just yesterday, a pair of principals who were implicated in a two-year-long cheating investigation in Philadelphia agreed to surrender their administrator licenses, rather than subject themselves to any disciplinary action from state officials for their alleged role in cheating on Pennsylvania's state tests in 2009-10. Both principals are no longer working in the district, although one of them just stepped down this week.

In Baltimore, Andrés Alonso, the chief executive officer, has taken an aggressive stance since district and state officials found evidence of cheating on Maryland's state exams at one elementary school in 2010. More problems were uncovered at two additional schools in 2011, and Alonso went public with the allegations.

His approach has caused major friction with the Baltimore's principals' union, which has accused Alonso of being overzealous in his treatment of principals whose schools are suspected of cheating.

Baltimore has also instituted strong testing security protocols over the last couple of years, including hiring independent monitors to oversee the testing process at every school in the city. Those external monitors oversee the securing of test booklets at the end of each test day. The district also has begun using tamperproof tape to seal test booklets.

Winston Brooks, the superintendent in Albuquerque, N.M., told me that one of the major lessons from the Atlanta case is that all school leaders—especially those working in urban systems—must be much more proactive about preventing cheating and moving quickly to look into any complaints or statistical analyses that suggest that something untoward may have occurred. His district just finished its state testing for the year and had two reports of possible irregularities come to assessment officials. Those were reported immediately to the state education department of, he said, and on the same day the reports came in, the district's assessment team visited the schools to talk with students and staff members.


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