ATLANTA (AP) — Dozens of educators in 11 schools in south Georgia's Dougherty County either cheated or failed to prevent cheating on state standardized tests in 2009, state investigators said Tuesday.
The state report describes the misconduct as "disgraceful," pointing to one fifth-grade teacher who said her students could not read but still performed well on a Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. Eighteen educators admitted to cheating, but investigators say 49 were involved in some way with the misconduct in the district, which has about 15,000 students.
Investigators said there were likely "far more" educators involved in cheating.
"There are skilled, dedicated and well-meaning educators in this school system," the investigators wrote. "But their work is often overshadowed by an acceptance of wrongdoing and a pattern of incompetence that is a blight on the community that will feel its effects for generations to come."
The investigators said former Superintendent Sally Whatley did not know about the cheating but was ultimately responsible for it. In August, Whatley told reporters that any cheating is her responsibility because it happened on "my watch."
The school district's offices were closed for the holidays, and no one was answering phones Tuesday. Superintendent Joshua Murfree did not immediately return a request for comment.
Gov. Nathan Deal called the investigators' findings "alarming."
"The findings out of Dougherty County are alarming as they paint a tragic picture of children passed through with no real or fair assessment of their abilities," Deal said. "To cheat a child out of his or her ability to truly excel in the classroom shames the district and the state."
The results of the investigation are being sent to the state Professional Standards Commission, which could revoke the teaching licenses of the educators involved. The probe will also be sent to Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards for possible criminal charges.
Edwards could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Albany Herald first reported the results of the state's investigation Monday night. The probe has been ongoing for more than a year after then-Gov. Sonny Perdue launched investigations in both Dougherty County and Atlanta Public Schools.
The investigators found widespread cheating in more than half of Atlanta's 100 schools, implicating nearly 200 educators. So far, no criminal charges have been filed in Atlanta against those educators, but eight teachers and three school administrators have lost their teaching licenses.
The testing problems in Atlanta schools first came to light after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that some scores were statistically improbable. The state released audits of test results after the newspaper published its analysis.
In Dougherty County, about 170 miles south of Atlanta, investigators conducted 650 interviews. In three interviews, school principals refused to answer questions after employees said they were told to cheat to improve students' scores.
The standardized tests are used to determine whether schools met federal benchmarks under the No Child Left Behind law. Schools that consistently miss targets face sanctions, while those that perform well get additional federal funding.
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Information from: The Albany Herald, http://albanyherald.com