Court Fight in Atlanta Schools Cheating Scandal

     ATLANTA (CN) – Six elementary school principals implicated in a massive school cheating investigation sued the Atlanta Public School System to try to hold onto their jobs, claiming they’ve been denied access to key documents.



     The six principals say their contracts were not renewed for 2013, based on the governor’s cheating investigation report from 2011.
     Plaintiffs in Fulton County Superior Court are Marlo Barber of F.L. Stanton Elementary, Anthony Dorsey of Fickett Elementary, Tamarah Larkin-Currie of White Elementary, Mimi Robinson of Connally Elementary, Tonya Saunders of Toomer Elementary and Cheryl Twyman of West Manor Elementary.
     They claim their rights to due process include a fair hearing before the Atlanta Public School System, with access to all of the documents related to the termination.
     “This is an action seeking a determination that the procedures used by the Atlanta Public School System (hereafter the AISS) to terminate the employment of certified employees who are charged with involvement in cheating on the 2009 CRCT examinations violate due process rights to a fair hearing,” the complaint states.
     “This is also an action seeking injunctive relief to enjoin the Atlanta public school system from conducting any further administrative hearings to terminate the employment of certification employees so charged until plaintiffs have been provided the basic testing data regarding the 2009 CRCT examinations and the investigative files and information upon which the charges brought against the plaintiffs are based.”
     The path to this lawsuit began with the governor’s July 2011 report that chronicled widespread cheating throughout the Atlanta district, based on a percentage of “wrong-to-right” erasures on Georgia’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT).
     According to the three-volume, 800 page report, more than 178 administrators and teachers from 56 elementary and middle schools in Atlanta participated in the cheating on the standardized CRCT test.
     Part of the original investigation cited a report by standardized test-maker CTB McGraw Hill, which alluded to test mishandling, based on an erasure analysis of the 2009 CRCT. The results of the analysis concluded that in 35 Georgia school districts, including Atlanta, a significant number of elementary and middle school classes had wrong-to-right erasures that were “disconcertingly higher than the state average.”
     McGraw Hill’s analysis concluded that if a class had wrong-to-right erasures more than three standard deviations above the state average, there was no way the erasures could have occurred without external assistance.
     But the plaintiffs say the evidence supplied by McGraw Hill is inaccurate, and that it was McGraw Hill’s analysis, within the APS investigation report, that compelled AISS and Superintendent Erroll Davis to terminate their contracts.
     The school system and Superintendent Davis are the only defendants in the principals’ complaint.
     “The decisions of defendants AISS and Davis not to renew the contracts of plaintiffs were based upon the Special Investigators’ Report,” the principals say.
     “The CTB McGraw Hill analysis of wrong-to-right erasures on the 2009 CRCT examination is fundamentally flawed and invalid as a basis for drawing any inference of culpability on the part of plaintiffs because that analysis is mathematically and scientifically invalid.”
     The principals claim that the criteria used to analyze CRCT test data in 2009 consisted of reviewing wrong-to-right erasures at the classroom level of individual schools, and that the conclusions were based on the rationale that the schools within AISS represented a random sample of all CRCT test scores within the state.
     “The analysis of the schools within the AISS, based upon statewide means and standard deviations presumes that the Atlanta test results are a random or representative sample for the state of Georgia and there is no stated rational for this unsupported assumption,” according to the complaint.
     It continues: “The analysis fails to examine other potentially corroborating or exculpating quantitative evidence, including any comparison of CRCT scores for individual students from testing year to the next testing year, nor any comparison of CRCT scores with course grades, nor consideration of more than one erasure per question, or any consideration of wrong-to-wrong erasures nor a consideration of right-to-wrong erasures.”
     Under Georgia law, the plaintiffs are allowed a hearing before an administrative tribunal, to contest the charges and defend themselves. They claim that to defend themselves they need the McGraw Hill analysis, so they can show that the data are flawed.
     “The CTB McGraw Hill analysis of wrong-to-right erasures on the 2009 CRCT examination is an essential element of the charges asserted against all plaintiffs by the special investigators’ report,” the complaint states. “The decisions of AISS and Davis not to renew the contracts were based on the special investigators’ report.”
     All six plaintiffs face their administrative tribunals within the next three months. Robinson is first up, on June 21, followed by Barber, on June 25.
     Under the Georgia Open Records Act, they requested the CRCT erasure data from the Georgia Department of Education, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Governor’s Office, and from the Special Investigators.
     All say they have been denied documents, because Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard is pursuing possible criminal charges based on the data from the governor’s investigation.
     “By order entered September 8, 2011, District Attorney Howard obtained an injunction from this court enjoining the AISS from releasing any information provided by defendant AOS to citizens pursuant to the Open Records Act,” according to the complaint.
     Attorney Mike Bowers, one of the governor’s special investigators for the APS cheating report, told Courthouse News in an interview: “The special investigators cannot release the requested information until the district attorney agrees to do so. With a criminal investigation in progress, this is his call to make.”
     The principals seek an injunction to stop the administrative tribunals until they get the information they want, and until the criminal investigation by District Attorney Paul Howard has concluded.
     They are represented by Michael Kramer and John Meyer of Atlanta.

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