By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Time behind bars could be limited for 10 former Atlanta public school educators convicted of racketeering in a nationally watched test cheating scandal, after they were urged by a judge to consider plea deals ahead of a sentencing hearing on Tuesday.
Court proceedings are set to resume at 10 a.m. after Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter gave defendants time on Monday to negotiate with prosecutors, who say they are willing to spare the educators lengthy sentences if they take responsibility for the cheating.
"The only reason that I would send you to jail is for retribution," Baxter told the educators, who have been in jail since being found guilty on April 1.
Urged by civil rights leaders and the defendants' relatives to show leniency, Baxter prodded them to consider plea deals.
Erasing wrong answers was part of the cheating by the educators, who were under intense pressure to meet test targets, prosecutors said during a nearly six-month long trial.
Student achievement helped the former principals, teachers and administrators to secure promotions and cash bonuses.
Cheating was rampant throughout the Atlanta school district in 2009, state investigators found, exposing problems that raised national concerns about high-stakes standardized testing.
A Georgia grand jury in 2013 indicted 35 Atlanta educators, including former school superintendent Beverly Hall, on conspiracy and other charges.
Twelve of the educators ended up going on trial for the charges, and 11 were convicted. Hall died of breast cancer this year.
Sentencing has been delayed until August for one of the 11 guilty educators.
(Writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)