Eleven Atlanta educators, including teachers, testing coordinators and administrators, were found guilty Wednesday of orchestrating one of the country's biggest cheating scandals, one in which teachers falsified records and student test scores to show massive improvements in learning in order to earn money for their respective schools and themselves.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which exposed the scandal, a 2011 investigation revealed that educators had given answers to students or erased answers that were incorrect and then filled in the correct answers after tests had been turned in. Those whose students showed improvements secured promotions or up to $5,000 each in bonuses, according to court documents viewed by the Daily Mail.
The Journal-Constitution found evidence of cheating in some 44 schools and involving 180 educators. Teachers who tried to report the misconduct faced retaliation, according to the investigation.
An in-depth look at records by the Journal-Constitution found cheating as far back as 2001, when the 50,000-student school district began to show signs of improvement on statewide skills tests.
The alleged ringleader, Superintendent Beverly Hall, who reportedly received as much as $500,000 in bonuses, died of breast cancer during the trial.
Thirty-five educators were originally charged in 2013, but many of them pleaded guilty, agreeing to community service and fines in exchange for their testimony against others who participated in the falsifying of documents.
The 11 educators found guilty "will all be sentenced on April 8 and could face up to 20 years in prison for the racketeering charges. They were all found guilty under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, which is typically reserved for major mobsters and organized crime bosses," the Daily Mail notes.
A 12th defendant was acquitted of all charges, according to the Daily Mail.
"This is a huge story and absolutely the biggest development in American education law since forever," University of Georgia law professor Ron Carlson told the Daily Mail. "It has to send a message to educators here and broadly across the nation. Playing with student test scores is very, very dangerous business."