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Atlanta Cheating Case: Prosecution Zeroes In on Former Regional Director

The trial in the Atlanta cheating scandal in which a dozen former educators and administrators are charged with altering student test scores to inflate academic performance continues today, with a focus on the role of a former regional director.

Tamara Cotman, who oversaw 21 schools as regional executive director, stood trial last year on a charge of influencing a witness, but she was acquitted, The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported. 

Cotman is one of 12 former educators and administrators who are facing felony racketeering charges for their alleged roles in changing students' test scores on Georgia's standardized tests in 2009. 

Fulton County prosecutors indicted 35 former administrators in connection with the largest testing scandal in the country. The trial is now in its third week.

Prosecutors allege that the educators altered students scores on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test—Georgia's standardized assessment—to make schools appear academically stronger than they were and also to qualify for bonuses under the administration of former superintendent Beverly Hall. 

Hall, once named a national superintendent of the year, was also slapped with a felony racketeering charge; but she is not standing trial with the current group because she is undergoing cancer treatment and her lawyers say doctors are giving her a dim prognosis.

Last week, some of the educators who had accepted plea deals in exchange for their testimonies gave conflicting accounts of the roles they played.

On Monday, a math coach from Harper-Archer Middle School and a former principal testified that they noticed the double-digit increase in math scores in the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, but that they had not cheated nor had they been told to cheat, according to the paper.

Math coach Arn St. Cyr said he thought the results were the payoff for years of hard work.

"Everybody assumed that finally what we were doing was paying off," St. Cyr told the court, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. 

But closer examination of the gains, which showed a 30 percent increase, led him to believe that something was amiss, the paper reported. 

"You can reasonably expect maybe 10 percent a year. To see a 30-percent jump, that was unheard of," he said. "It just didn't add up to me." 

Former Harper-Archer principal Michael Milstead also said he did not change answers on the test, nor did Cotman tell him to change answers. But he said he suspected that some people did so.

The newspaper reported that students' scores appeared digitally altered after they were "monitored" by the district's central office and by Cotman. 

Up-to-the-minute coverage of the trial can be found at ajc.com.

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