Former Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall says she "can't accept that there is a culture of cheating" among Atlanta schools. She made the comment in an interview published Thursday with The New York Times.
Her response draws on the findings from a two-year investigation that found widespread cheating among at least 44 Atlanta schools and implicated 178 educators involved in test tampering, including erasing students' incorrect answers on standardized tests and replacing them with correct ones. The findings shook the country and "stunned" U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Those found guilty of cheating could face criminal charges and removal from APS, though the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported today that state officials are considering easing the punishment for implicated educators who are cooperative through ongoing investigations.
The initial 800-page report criticized Hall for breeding "a culture of fear and intimidation," in which teachers feared speaking out about cheating by coworkers that they became aware of, and in which educators were pressured to meet or exceed annual goals for test results. Hall told The Times that how she's been portrayed in the media is an image "foreign" and "crazy" to her.
In July, Hall repeatedly denied being aware of widespread cheating during her tenure. She told WXIA-TV that she "absolutely knew nothing about the cheating."
Now, APS is faced with the report's aftermath. Removing and replacing implicated teachers could take the district months to years, and paying those currently on leave as a result of the scandal is costing APS $1 million a month, WSB-TV reported in July. The district is also contractually bound to foot Hall's legal fees related to the investigation, which has so far totaled $127,000, according to AJC.
The district is now considering axing its incentives program, which awards educators based on student scores on standardized tests and other factors of student performance like attendance, AJC reports.
"I will survive this," Hall told The Times. "I feel badly for myself, but I feel just as badly for all the people in this district who are working hard. Now everything they read and hear is negative. That is taking a tremendous toll on me."
Hall retired from her top spot at APS just before investigators released their report. The district is now led by interim Superintendent Erroll Davis.
In a guest column published by Education Week last month, Hall wrote that "there is no excuse for cheating, and I deeply regret that I did not do more to prevent it," and urges districts across the country to learn from the scandal.