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35 indicted in America's biggest school cheating scandal

In the largest cheating scandals to hit the US public education system, 35 Atlanta public school educators and administrators have been indicted on charges of largescale racketeering and corruption.

world Updated: Mar 31, 2013 15:52 IST

In the largest cheating scandals to hit the US public education system, 35 Atlanta public school educators and administrators have been indicted on charges of largescale racketeering and corruption.

Among those indicted by a Fulton County, Georgia, grand jury was Beverly Hall, the former schools superintendent who gained national recognition in 2009 for turning around Atlanta's school system.

"She was a full participant in that conspiracy," Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told reporters during a news conference announcing the charges.

"Without her, this conspiracy could not have taken place, particularly in the degree in which it took place." Among those also indicted were four of Hall's executive administrators, six principals, two assistant principals, six testing coordinators, 14 teachers, a school improvement specialist and a school secretary.

Prosecutors allege the 35 named defendants "conspired to either cheat, conceal cheating or retaliate against whistle - blowers in an effort to bolster Criterion Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) scores for the benefit of financial rewards associated with high test scores".

The indictment, released on Friday, follows a state investigation that was launched after a series of reports by The Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper found large, unexplained gains in test scores in some Atlanta schools.

A state review determined that some cheating had occurred in more than half of the district's elementary and middle schools, CNN reported.

Hall has denied any role in the cheating scandal. She resigned from her position in 2011 following the state investigation, which lambasted her leadership and found widespread cheating in dozens of Atlanta schools.

The alleged cheating is believed to date back to 2001, according to the indictment, when standardised testing scores began to turn around in the 50,000-student school district.

For at least a period of four years, between 2005 and 2009, test answers were altered, fabricated and falsely certified, the indictment said.

Hall allegedly oversaw a system where threats and intimidation were used against teachers, it said.

"As a result, cheating became more and more prevalent," the indictment said.

By the time the 2009 Criterion Referenced Competency Tests, as the standardised test is known, was administered in Atlanta Public Schools, "cheating was taking place in a majority of APS's 83 elementary and middle schools."

According to the indictment, Hall placed unreasonable goals on educators and "protected and rewarded those who achieved targets by cheating. It also alleges she fired principals who failed to achieve goals and "ignored suspicious" test score gains throughout the school system.

In 2009, Hall was named the National Superintendent of the Year by the Schools Superintendents Association, which at the time said her "leadership has turned Atlanta into a model of urban school reform."

But the indictment paints another picture of Hall, one of a superintendent with "a single-minded purpose, and that is to cheat," Howard told reporters.

"For example, teachers who reported other teachers who cheated were terminated, while teachers who were caught cheating were only suspended," the indictment alleges.

At the heart of the conspiracy to cheat, the indictment said, was money.

Of the 65 counts in the indictment, Hall and 34 others were charged with one count of violating Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

In addition to racketeering, Hall also is charged with making false statements and writings and theft by taking.

If convicted on all counts, she could face a maximum of 45 years in prison.

Hall and the 34 others named in the indictment have been ordered to surrender to authorities by Tuesday, said Howard, the district attorney.

First Published: Mar 31, 2013 15:50 IST