Eleven former Atlanta public school employees—including five teachers and a principal—were convicted Wednesday on racketeering charges related to a standardized-test cheating epidemic first exposed in 2009. Twenty-one other educators had previously admitted guilt in plea agreements; all were accused after investigations revealed that a number of schools systematically cheated on tests by obtaining questions in advance and changing student answers after the tests were completed. The individuals convicted Wednesday are scheduled to be sentenced on April 8 and face penalties of up to 20 years in prison.
The New Yorker covered the scandal in a remarkable July 2014 story by Rachel Aviv about a math teacher named Damany Lewis from Parks Middle School, who was the first teacher fired after the cheating was uncovered.* In Aviv’s telling, Lewis was a legitimately accomplished teacher and mentor, and Parks a school that had been legitimately improved by Lewis and other committed staffers. But those staffers were also under heavy personal and professional pressure from an administration that (like many others around the country) relied on rapidly improving scores to burnish its own political standing and prestige. In the end, many undermined their own efforts and destroyed their careers by participating in elaborate efforts to cheat the tests.
The superintendant in charge of the system at the time, Beverly Hall, died on March 2 of this year; she was charged in the scandal but denied the accusations against her and was never tried because of her failing health.
*Correction, April 1, 2015: This post originally misstated that Lewis pleaded guilty to a felony. Parks Middle School principal Christopher Waller pleaded guilty to a felony, but Lewis was not charged with a crime.