In a statement through her attorney today, a vacationing Beverly Hall — reportedly in Hawaii — says she was unaware of widespread cheating in the school system that she oversaw for 12 years.
“Apparently, not one of the 82 persons who allegedly ‘confessed’ to cheating told the investigators that Dr. Hall at any time instructed, encouraged or condoned cheating,” said attorney Richard Deane in a statement. “The report’s conclusion that Dr. Hall actually knew of any such cheating is based entirely on supposition. The further conclusion that Dr. Hall ’should have known’ rests on negative inferences from selective, circumstantial evidence.”
No, it doesn’t. There is real evidence in the report that Hall and her staff ignored or discredited bona fide complaints of cheating, especially when the allegations were about high-scoring schools that were winning accolades. The report shows a willful effort within APS to maintain the pretense that Hall was a miracle-worker.
But Hall had other evidence that suggested something was amiss – tangible evidence that the high scoring students at Parks Middle, for example, did poorly on state math exams in high school. In the report, the cheating at Parks sounds like something out a CIA covert action manual with clandestine missions to steal tests and trumped excuses to lure the honest testing coordinator out of the building.
After a visit to Parks with the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, I looked at the End of Course Test math scores for the high school in the feeder. Scores were awful. APS could have looked at whether similarly high performing middle school students from other schools saw their scores tumble so markedly in high school.
Two years ago, I asked Dr. Hall about whether there was any effort to reconcile astounding middle school performance on the CRCT with high school performance, She said that the students could not be followed to high school because they didn’t necessarily move as a group to the same school. But a system that was “data driven,” as Dr. Hall often described APS, should have looked more deeply at waves of students who soared to unprecedented heights in middle school only to crash in high school.
Hall wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to look too closely at fantastic results. Many top education foundations, including the Annie E. Casey, Gates and Broad foundations, celebrated the data coming out of APS.
I talked today to Steve Dolinger, former Fulton superintendent and head of the Georgia Partnership, about whether groups, including his own, which featured Parks on its bus tour of great schools, failed to do their due diligence.
“We relied on data that was published on the DOE website,” he said. “When we look at the data, we don’t think there is wrongdoing. We have no supposition that cheating is going on.”
But there will be far more scrutiny now of meteoric rises in school performance, he said. “This whole situation is going to cast doubt on success, especially rapid success. When success happens quickly, you are going to have to ask questions about what was going on.”
I think there is plenty of blame to go around, including the media, but I have to wonder about the role of the state Department of Education. The agency mandates and administers all these tests. Should the agency make any effort to validate scores? If not, how can it eventually use the scores to reward or punish teachers?
In a joint 2003 investigation, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution/WSB Channel 2 Action News found that Gwinnett underreported its student discipline data to the state Department of Education by at least 85 percent. When the AJC questioned the incomplete and inaccurate discipline reports, DOE said that it only collected the data; it not review and verify it. I am not sure why the state collects data and then says it can’t vouch for it.
In 2004, the AJC did another major APS investigation, this one on the system’s blatant waste of technology dollars. The AJC series documented that Atlanta Public Schools misspent or mismanaged nearly $73 million from a national program intended to give poor children access to the Internet. At the time, Hall defended her lack of attention to technology, saying she was spending all her time focusing on classroom academics.
Apparently, she didn’t focus enough.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog