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Friday, March 1, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Key Figure in Atlanta Cheating Scandal Dies

(CN) - Beverly Hall, the former superintendent of the Atlanta public schools who was allegedly at the center of a conspiracy to alter students' standardized test scores, has died. The cause of death was breast cancer.

Hall had been deemed too ill to stand trial on racketeering and other charges, but several other educators with the school district are currently on trial in connection with the alleged cheating scandal.

The alleged over-arching motive for the alleged cheating was to boost the district's eligibility for federal funds under No Child Left Behind, which went into effect in January 2008.

The funds that can be spent on tutoring children and orchestrating professional development training to teachers. It also gives parents a choice to transfer their child out of a school that underperforms, and even closing schools that continued to fail.

Prosecutors said securing No Child Left Behind funding is particularly critical to districts like Atlanta's where many students suffer poverty, hunger and exposure to violent crime.

But in her opening statements last September, Assistant District Attorney Fani Willis depicted Atlanta as having a school system that was out of control, and she the defendants of erasing incorrect test answers, telling children the correct answers, breaking into sealed exams beforehand to teach according to the test, and lying to law enforcement in order to disguise the conspiracy.

Defense attorneys for the many defendants tried to counter these assertions by casting doubt on the reliability of the state's witnesses, some of who received plea deals or immunity in exchange for their testimony.

Hall, who joined the low-performing Atlanta public schools in 1999, was for years hailed for turning the school system around.

However, as reports of improbable gains in test scores began to emerge, Hall was virtually vilified, especially after it can to light that she received more than $500,000 in performance bonuses.

Willis described the former superintendent as selling herself as the "magic elixir" for a district desperate to close an achievement gap with other Georgia districts when she was hired on July 1, 1999.

In short order, Willis said, Hall created "targets" which required that students meet and exceed expectations, but there was a catch:

Hall viewed the CRCT test as a primary measure for evaluating educators rewarding those who met targets with public recognition, performance bonuses and promotions, the prosecutor said.

Those who didn't meet Hall's targets were consigned to probation or found that their contracts were not renewed.

Regardless of the circumstances, Willis alleges that defendants accepted "no excuses" for falling short of the targets.

In a statement released Monday, Hall's supporters remained unbowed by such depictions.

"Even after millions of dollars, hundreds of witnesses and interviews, and a review of thousands upon thousands of emails, not a single witness has said, nor a single email demonstrated, that Dr. Hall ordered, directed or participated in cheating," the statement said.

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