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Atlanta School Supe Must Surrender Today

ATLANTA (CN) - Former Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall and 34 others accused in the test cheating scandal must turn themselves in today, and a grand jury recommended a $7.5 million bond for the former superintendent.

A Fulton County Grand Jury last week indicted Hall and 34 others, accusing them of a giant cheating scandal, in which school employees changed students' answers on standardized tests to make Hall's district look good.

The 90-page, 65-count indictment includes RICO charges, influencing witnesses, false statements, false swearing, and theft by taking.

Besides Hall, defendants include four executive administrators, six principals, two assistant principals, six testing coordinators, 14 teachers, a school improvement specialist and a school secretary.

The indictment, filed Friday, came after a 2-year investigation of widespread, administration-coerced cheating on the 2008-2009 standardized Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT). The goal, aside from burnishing Hall's record, was to improve overall scores and garner inflated salary bonuses for the administration, schools and teachers, according to District Attorney Paul Howard Jr.

The original investigation found that more than 178 administrators and teachers from 56 elementary and middle schools in the Atlanta Public School System participated in the cheating on the CRCTs.

Investigators found cheating in 44 of the 56 schools they examined about the 2009 standardized CRCT tests, "and uncovered organized and systemic misconduct within the district as far back as 2001," according to an investigation ordered by Gov. George "Sonny" Perdue. "Superintendent Beverly Hall and her senior staff knew, or should have known, that cheating and other offenses were occurring. Many of the accolades, and much of the praise, received by APS over the last decade were ill-gotten," according to the governor's investigation.

After the governor's report was issued, Fulton County D.A. Paul Howard continued the investigation, and after 21 months of interviews with school administrators, staff, students and parents at 50 APS schools, the his office created a special unit of prosecutors to see if the cheating was criminal.

In a press conference after the jury handed down the indictments, Howard said that without Hall at the helm of APS, the "conspiracy" to cheat in 58 Atlanta schools could not have taken place.

The indictment accuses Hall of theft by taking and racketeering from 2006 to 2010. She is accused of accepting salary bonuses from the Georgia Department of Education after reporting CRCT test scores that she knew were false.

Her zeal to burnish her record through higher test scores revealed itself in a pattern of fear and intimidation that trickled down from her through the administration down to the classroom in a circle of threats, intimidation and coercion, according to the lengthy indictment.

"Beverly Hall's targets often set more rigorous goals for schools than Adequate Yearly Progress ('AYP'), a measure of year-to-year student achievement on statewide assessments created under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 ('NCLB')," the indictment states.

"Under Beverly Hall's target system, schools had to perform at a higher standard on the CRCT than otherwise required by the state in order to receive a bonus. AYP required schools to have a certain percentage of students merely pass the CRCT."

Hall's immediate subordinates, including Human Resources Executive Millicent Few, School Resource Team Executive Directors Sharon Davis-Williams, Michael Pitts and Tamara Cottmon, executed Hall's directives, according to the indictment.

"Conspirators would refuse to investigate reports of cheating; suppress and deny the existence of reports of cheating; fail to act upon APS investigators' conclusions that cheating was occurring; suppress and deny the APS investigators' conclusions that cheating was in fact occurring; fail and refuse to provide complaints of cheating to the Governor's Special Investigators, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and investigators from the Fulton County District Attorney's Office; and intimidate witnesses with the intent to hinder, delay, or prevent the communication of criminal offenses to law enforcement officers," the indictment states.

District Attorney Howard said principals turned on teachers, teachers turned on other teachers and all of their jobs depended on whether they admitted to cheating or kept their mouths shut.

"APS principals and teachers were frequently told by Beverly Hall and her subordinates that excuses for not meeting targets would not be tolerated. When principals and teachers could not reach their targets, their performance was criticized, their jobs were threatened and some were terminated," the indictment states.

"As part of the conspiracy, employees of APS who failed to satisfy targets were terminated or threatened with termination, while others who achieved targets through cheating were publicly praised and financially rewarded."

The indictment continues: "For example, teachers who reported other teachers who cheated were terminated, while teachers who were caught cheating were only suspended. The message from Beverly Hall was clear: there were to be no exceptions and no excuses for failure to meet targets. ...

"When questioned by the Governor's Special Investigators and law enforcement officers, many of the conspirators made false statements - some under oath - denying their knowledge of and participation in the cheating."

If convicted of all charges, Hall faces up to 45 years in prison.

"The refusal of Beverly Hall and her top administrators to accept anything other than satisfying targets created an environment where achieving the desired end result was more important than the students' education," the indictment states.

The cheating was so widespread and efficient that at times it cost Atlanta schools money, by taking schools off a "failing" list and making them look like stellar achievers, The New York Times reported.

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