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Ill-Gotten Gains

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

It was my freshman year of high school. My mother, sister and I had recently moved back to Carrollton, Ga. It may have been social studies, or it may have been biology, the subject does not matter, it was the life lesson that I learned that does.

We were given a test. A few of the other students were writing notes on their desk. Deciding that this might ensure a high grade, I followed suit. The teacher made rounds during the test by walking up and down the aisle. She caught me cheating on the test.

The ramifications: a failing grade on the test and a discussion with my mother. I don't remember exactly what my mother told me, but I remember that her response was: Study hard, do the best you can, the process of learning is more important than the grade.

What I learned from this experience was that the end does not justify the means. The process of learning (or at least of memorizing the subject matter for the duration of the test) was more important than the grade that I received on a test.

The culture in our school was that cheating was not allowed.

That childhood lesson is one that many of the people who have run Atlanta's public schools might never learned. Delivered last week to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and made public this week, the governor's special investigation into Atlanta Public School's 2009 CRCT test, led by Robert E. Wilson (former DeKalb County district attorney), Michael J. Bowers (former state attorney general) and Richard L. Hyde (former Atlanta police detective) is shocking and sad. The special investigation was started under then-Gov. Sonny Perdue and continued under Deal. The report is based on 2,100 interviews and more than 800,000 documents.

The takeaway from the report is that the ends were more important than the means for some of the teachers and administrators during the 2009 CRCT (Criterion-Referenced Competency Test) process. According to the Georgia Department of Education website: "The assessments yield information on academic achievement at the student, class, school, system, and state levels. This information is used to diagnose individual student strengths and weaknesses as related to the instruction of the GPS (Georgia Performance Standards), and to gauge the quality of education throughout Georgia."

The findings of the state report: Widespread cheating occurred in administering the 2009 test.

"Superintendent Beverly Hall and her senior staff knew, or should have known, that cheating and offenses were occurring," stated the report. "We found cheating in 44 of the 56 schools we examined (78.6 percent). There were 38 principals of those 56 schools (67.9 percent) found to be responsible for, or directly involved in, cheating."

The cheating was deliberate and in some schools coordinated. "Teachers and administrators erased students' incorrect answers after the test was given and filled in the correct answers."

This was not a case where a few random teachers provided extra help to a favorite student or two. This involved, in some cases, groups of teachers and principals, and planning and coordination -- resources that should have been spent on teaching students, not attempting to rig test results.

"The changing of answers by teachers and administrators was, in some cases, so sophisticated that plastic transparency answer sheets were created to make changing the test answers sheets easier," the report says.

After listing details about the individual schools, the report attempts to address the why of the cheating. Why would teachers and principals who were supposed to be focusing on teaching children focus, instead, on falsifying student achievement? Why were they setting up their children to fail?

The report concluded that there were three primary reasons:

"The targets set by the district were often unrealistic ..."

"A culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation spread throughout the district ..."

And, "Dr. Hall and her administration emphasized test results and public praise to the exclusion of integrity and ethics."

The report went on to note that this pressure to cheat must have built over the years. Test scores were based on prior years' test results. "After a few years of increases," noted the report, "teachers found the targets unattainable and resorted to cheating."

Unattainable targets, according to the report, led to cheating by teachers and administrators. Just imagine how the children in the schools felt. Not given the instruction necessary by their teachers because their prior year's performance was artificially inflated, but led to believe that the only way to get the results desired was to cheat.

It was the children who were cheated, led to believe that the end was more important than the means of getting there.

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