The Continuing Soap Opera of the Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Trial

The Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial may have been in progress since September, but this week it has taken some bizarre twists and turns that more resemble a soap opera than a courtroom trial.

This week alone, we've learned of teachers who continued changing answers on standardized tests because no one explicitly told them that their actions were wrong, along with teachers who threatened and insulted students when it came to the test cheating.

On Monday, one teacher testified that she and other teachers erased answers on the Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) in order to elevate scores for their school:

Former Dunbar Elementary School second-grade teacher Rose Neal testified that she saw second-grade teacher Diane Buckner-Webb and first-grade teachers Pamela Cleveland and Shani Robinson cheat on Georgia’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests in the spring of 2009. Neal said she too cheated.

Buckner-Webb, Cleveland and Robinson all face charges of racketeering and making false statements. A statewide analysis found an abnormally high number of wrong-to-right erasures on standardized tests taken by their students in 2009.

No one in the room — including former Dunbar testing coordinator Lera Middlebrooks — suggested cheating was wrong or that they should stop, Neal said in response to a prosecutor’s question.

“I wish they had, but no,” she said.

On Wednesday, another school system employee testified that certain teachers insulted their students' intelligence while those same students went on to perform too well the CRCT:

Certain fourth-grade teachers at Dobbs Elementary School told their students things like “You all just dumb. You can’t learn anything,” former Dobbs teaching coach Lori Revere-Paulk testified in the Atlanta test-cheating trial Wednesday.

But many of those students went on to ace state tests, even though results from other tests suggested they would fall short, Revere-Paulk said.

On Thursday, students testified that teachers threatened them when they witnessed or reported cheating:

“If I lose my job, I’m ’a beat your ass,” former Dobbs Elementary School teacher Derrick Broadwater told one fifth-grader after the boy reported possible cheating to a school employee, according to the student’s account, which Broadwater disputes.

Then Broadwater came closer to the child and shared another message.

“He was going to kill me,” the student testified.

The boy, now a broad-shouldered 17-year-old in his Atlanta high school’s ROTC program, said he was too scared to report the threats until recently.

[...]

Two other former Dobbs students testified that [teacher Angela] Williamson told them and other students the answers on fourth-grade state tests.

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But the girls didn’t tell anyone about the cheating at the time. Williamson told them not to, they said.

“If you tell anyone, it’ll be the last person you tell, I promise you that,” Williamson told the class, one of the girls testified.

The cheating scandal came to light when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution questioned unusually high scores on the CRCT between 2002 and 2009 at certain Atlanta schools. Indictments went all the way to the top, including to former superintendent Beverly Hall, who will not testify because she is gravely ill with cancer.

Stay tuned as we bring you more unusual details from the trial as they unfold.