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Investigators Allege Test Tampering in Second Georgia District

More than 40 teachers and administrators in the 16,000-student Dougherty, Ga. school system engaged in test tampering on the 2009 administration of the state exam, according to a report released today by the same investigators who delved into a cheating scandal earlier this year in Atlanta.

The investigation showed cheating took place in at least 11 of 26 schools in the district, which is located about 170 miles south of Atlanta. The report was released in two volumes: Part I and Part II. Eighteen educators acknowledged they cheated, and implicated many others.

Much like the report on Atlanta cheating released in July, investigators had harsh words for the school personnel they said were involved.

"The disgraceful situation we found in the Dougherty County School System is a tragedy, sadly illustrated by a comment made by a teacher who said that her 5th grade students could not read, yet did well on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT).

This incredible statement from a teacher in a school where the principal flatly refused to cooperate with our investigation is indicative of what we found in many of the schools we visited.

To our amazement, this top-level administrator would not even answer questions about how she mishandled her duties as the person who is most responsible, at that school, for overseeing all testing activity.

Another school principal, whose salary was over $90,000 per year, allowed her family to falsely claim that they were eligible for a federally-funded free lunch each school day, even though official guidelines required the annual income to be no more than $24,089. Yet another principal, with regard to our interviews, told a teacher: "Don't you tell them anything, you hear?"

Notwithstanding these examples of misconduct, there are skilled, dedicated and well-meaning educators in this school system. But their work is often overshadowed by an acceptance of wrongdoing and a pattern of incompetence that is a blight on the community that will feel its effects for generations to come. This is the Dougherty County School System."

The school system is out for the winter holidays, and has not yet released a response to the report.

Investigators said they conducted more than 650 interviews, including some where lie detector tests were administered. They say that educators were driven by fear of failure and by a desire to meet state standards for adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind.

And, like the Atlanta report, the narratives of cheating at individual schools offers some of the most sensational details. At Jackson Heights Elementary, the report said, the principal coordinated cheating by allowing other teachers to enter their colleagues' classrooms and give answers to the students. At that school, the investigators released an email from principal LaZoria Walker Brown to another teacher, saying that the tests were stressful and "[t]hese children don't really care because they don't have parents who set standards and high expectations for them. Sorry to say this but it is true."

State investigators made it clear after the Atlanta report was released that they were turning their attention to Dougherty County. The school system had been brought to state attention before for allegations of cheating, but was exonerated by an investigator hired by the district who was "wholly unqualified" for that job, the report says.

The governor's office released a statement saying the report painted a "tragic picture."

"To cheat a child out of his or her ability to truly excel in the classroom shames the district and the state," the statement said.

John Barge, the state school superintendent, said the report highlighted a need for a "different, more thorough accountability system" like what Georgia has proposed in its NCLB waiver request to the Department of Education.

"Relying on a single test to determine a student's and a school's academic success is plagued with problems," Barge said.

Want to keep up with school district news? Follow @district_doss on Twitter.

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