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Former Atlanta superintendent fires back in cheating scandal

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former superintendent denies wrongdoing
  • Report confirms widespread cheating in Atlanta Public Schools
  • Investigators said 178 teachers and principals were involved

Atlanta (CNN) -- The embattled former superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools on Wednesday denied she knew of any widespread falsification by educators of student test results.

Beverly Hall, superintendent of the district when the scandal surfaced, lashed back at a scathing state report that concluded she "either knew or should have known cheating and other misconduct were occurring in the APS system."

"We reaffirm Dr. Hall's position that she most definitely did not know of any widespread cheating on the CRCT (Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests) in 2009 or any other year," she said in a statement released through her attorney.

Dozens of Atlanta public school educators falsified standardized tests or failed to address such misconduct in their schools, Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday in unveiling the results of a state investigation that confirmed widespread cheating in the city schools dating as far back as 2001.

Some of the cheating could result in criminal charges, Deal said.

"I think the overall conclusion was that testing and results and targets being reached became more important than actual learning for children," Deal said. "And when reaching targets became the goal, it was a goal that was pursued with no excuses."

Falsifying test results made the schools appear to be performing better than they really were. But in the process, students were deprived of critical remedial education and taxpayers were cheated, as well, Deal said.

Investigators said 178 teachers and principals working at 44 schools were involved. The educators, including 38 principals, were either directly involved in erasing wrong answers on a key standardized test or they knew -- or should have known -- what was going on, according to Deal's office.

Deal's office said 82 of the educators acknowledged involvement, according to the report. Six principals declined to answer investigators' questions and invoked the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Deal said.

According to Hall, not one of the 82 told investigators that she at any time instructed, encouraged, or condoned cheating. "The report's conclusion that Dr. Hall actually knew of any such cheating is based entirely on supposition. The further conclusion that Dr. Hall 'should have known' rests on negative inferences from selective, circumstantial evidence," according to her statement.

The state report claims Hall was not fully cooperative during the investigation.

The former superintendent claims she believed testing protocols and security procedures were followed.

"We deny that Dr. Hall has engaged in any intentional wrongdoing whatsoever."

Hall won accolades for the district's apparent successes during her tenure, and she was named superintendent of the year by the American Association of School Administrators in 2009. She recently retired.

The investigation's findings have been forwarded to the state teacher licensing board, Deal said. That agency could take disciplinary action against the educators involved. Whether to bring criminal charges will be up to prosecutors, Deal said.

The cheating was brought to light after marked improvements in the district's performance on the 2009 statewide CRCT revealed a pattern of incorrect test answers being erased and replaced with correct answers.

Investigators compared the results with test results from other Georgia schools and found that such patterns did not occur normally, Deal said. That the district's CRCT results fell in 2010 further confirmed the findings, according to the report.