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Atlanta Cheating Trial Wraps Up Eighth Week of Testimony, No End in Sight

By guest blogger Madeline Will

In the eighth week of Atlanta's test-cheating trial, prosecutors continued to build their case that former administrators and teachers had conspired widely to cheat and make student performance in the urban district look better than it was.

A dozen former Atlanta educators are fighting charges that allege they had a hand in inflating students' scores on Georgia's standardized tests.

Most of the 35 former teachers and administrators who were indicted initially had pleaded guilty and will not have to stand trial. Many received lesser sentences in exchange for their testimony, including Sandra Ward, a former Parks Middle School reading coach who had pleaded guilty to cheating and testified about her experience this week.

On Monday, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, one of the governor's former special investigators testified that former Superintendent Beverly Hall had set unrealistic test targets that caused the cheating scandal. Last week, former Gov. Sonny Perdue said the cheating had to have been systemic.

(Hall's trial has been postponed indefinitely because she is undergoing treatments for Stage IV breast cancer.)

Former teacher Tameka Butler-Grant, a whistleblower who received a $200,000 settlement from the district after she sued them for being fired, testified on Wednesday, according to 11Alive, Atlanta's NBC affiliate

She testified that she was fired for telling state investigators about the cheating that was happening at Parks Middle School and Dobbs Elementary. Butler-Grant said that former district administrator Michael Pitts had warned her against talking to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. 

"He said, 'If you think that you're telling on someone by talking to the GBI, you're really telling on yourself, because if you know something, you were supposed to tell it,'" she testified, according to 11Alive.

Butler-Grant said that after she told the state investigators that Dana Evans, then-principal of Dobbs Elementary, had told her to falsify state test records, she was given bad performance reviews. She testified that although she was often late to work, she felt Evans was singling her out, and began gathering evidence to prove it.

For a bit of trial-related levity, check out this gallery from the AJC of some of Judge Jerry Baxter's best quotes over the last couple of months. He hasn't been afraid to chastise lawyers or witnesses, and is known to make quips during the proceedings. 

The trial, which started at the end of September, has had several delays the past couple of weeks for various reasons. According to a WSB-TV news reporter on Twitter, the trial will take three weeks off for the holidays. 

Prosecutors have said they plan to rest their case sometime in January. 

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