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Cheating Scandal Drove Enrollment in Atlanta Charters, Study Finds

Guest Post By Corey Mitchell.

Cross-posted from District Dossier.

A new study commissioned by the Atlanta public schools found that the district's test-cheating scandal disproportionately affected black students and sparked an increase in charter school enrollment in the city.

In the report, "The Long-Run Effects of Teacher Cheating on Student Outcomes," researchers from Atlanta-based Georgia State University found little evidence that the cheating had a significant effect on student attendance or behavior.

The researchers focused on the relationship between teacher cheating and post‐cheating student test scores, attendance, and behavior. The report concluded that evidence of negative effects in math was mixed, but the damage to performance in reading and English language arts was significant.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported the study's findings. The newspaper reports that the district will use the study to track the progress of affected students, evaluate the services they have received, and to consider any other remediation program they need to keep them on the path to graduation.

A Fulton County, Ga., judge sentenced eight of the 11 former Atlanta schools employees convicted in the test-cheating scandal to prison. A state investigation into cheating led to indictments of 35 Atlanta educators who, prosecutors said, changed answers on student tests because of the pressure to boost test scores. Many of the educators reached plea agreements in exchange for their cooperation with prosecutors

Here's a link to Education Week's coverage of the investigation, fallout, and trial.

Citing increases in charter school enrollment in the two years after investigators unearthed the cheating, the Georgia State University researchers also found "evidence that the cheating scandal led to a movement away from traditional public schools and into the charter sector."

The report used test-erasure analysis data to conclude that about 7,000 students likely had their answers manipulated. More than half were still enrolled in the Atlanta school system at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

Here's a summary report of the study compiled by the Atlanta school district.

In the summary, the authors wrote that while 75 percent of district's students are black, 98 percent of the students identified as having the largest number of erasures on their answer documents were black.

"The data also shows that the performance of students in this group is lower than the district as a whole," according to the summary. "However, it should be noted that it is difficult from these data to assign causes for the differences. For example, this summary did not attempt to control for other important variables such as teacher experience, teacher quality, and other school climate and culture variables that may well have impacted students in these schools."

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