TWO FORMER APS TEACHERS PLEAD GUILTY IN ‘HISTORIC CHEATING’ CASE

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

         Defendants Admit to Cheating on CRCT 
for Bonus Money, System Prestige

“…Regrettably over the course of several years a sickness developed within the Atlanta Public School system. It was deliberately cultivated and spread by a Superintendent and others who sought praise for high student test scores rather than for actually imparting to students the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the world.”
-Sheila Evans, former teacher Benteen Elementary

Atlanta
– These are the words as excerpted from the apology letter submitted to Fulton County Superior Court by Sheila Evans, a former Atlanta Public School system teacher who now admits to cheating. Evans was one of two educators who entered guilty pleas late Monday in connection with the Atlanta Public Schools ‘cheating’ scandal.  During plea proceedings before presiding Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter, Ms. Evans and Shayla Smith, a former teacher at Dobbs Elementary School, pleaded guilty to obstruction.
Evans and Smith were indicted in March along with 33 other educators (including former Superintendent Beverly Hall) for their roles in an alleged conspiracy to alter Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) scores within the Atlanta Public School system.  Each was charged with False Statements and Writings, Theft by Taking and Violation of the Georgia RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act.
Though she initially denied the claims against her, Shayla Smith admits cheating on several occasions while employed as a teacher at Dobbs Elementary. In 2007, Smith physically changed students’ answers on the CRCT after the testing concluded. Later in 2008 and 2009, Smith provided the correct answers to children and told them when the answers they had selected were wrong. Smith says she cheated because of the tremendous pressure placed on her by the principal to meet specific academic target goals “by any means necessary.” The targets were tied to bonuses and other incentives for the school district. Smith was rewarded with a $3,000.00 bonus for her students’ ‘achievement’ on the standardized test.
Under the terms of her plea agreement, Smith was sentenced to one year on probation, ordered to perform 250 hours of community service and pay $3,000.00 in restitution for the bonus money she received. Smith must also provide truthful testimony at trial. Smith also submitted a letter of apology (attached) to the Court.
The charges against Sheila Evans date back to 2009 when she was a teacher at Benteen Elementary School in Atlanta. Evans also initially denied the allegations against her but now admits that she told children when their answers were wrong and prodded them to correct their inaccuracies during the CRCT examinations. Evans says she cheated out of fear that she would lose her job if she refused. Evans was rewarded with a $1,000.00 bonus for her students’ ‘achievement’ on the standardized test.
Under the terms of her plea agreement, like Smith, Evans was sentenced to one year on probation, ordered to perform 250 hours of community service and pay $1,000.00 in restitution for the bonus money she received. Evans must also provide truthful testimony at trial. In addition to admitting her guilt, Evans also submitted a letter of apology (attached) to the Court as previously referenced.
Smith and Evans bring to four the number of educators who have entered guilty pleas in connection with the cheating scandal. On Friday, former Humphries Elementary teacher Ingrid Abella-Sly pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year on probation, 250 hours of community service and $500.00 in restitution for the bonus money she was awarded. Lisa Terry, her colleague at Humphries, was the first person to enter a guilty plea in the case. Terry received a similar sentence.
The District Attorney’s 21-month criminal investigation followed a 2011 probe initiated by the Governor’s Office into testing irregularities and cheating allegations on 2008-2009 CRCT exams in dozens of Atlanta Public elementary Schools. The District Attorney’s Office created a special unit of prosecutors and investigators to explore potential criminal activity connected with the allegations. The investigation included a review of testing activity associated with at least 50 APS schools as well as hundreds of interviews with school administrators, staff, parents and students.
Prosecutors allege the 35 named defendants conspired to either cheat, conceal cheating or retaliate against whistleblowers in an effort to bolster CRCT scores for the benefit of financial rewards associated with high test scores. The alleged activity dates back to as early as 2005. In addition to Dr. Beverly Hall, the former superintendent, the indicted defendants include four high-level executive administrators, six principals, two assistant principals, six testing coordinators, 15 teachers, and a school secretary.
Each of the defendants is charged with Georgia RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations). The 65-count indictment also includes charges of False Statements and Writings, False Swearing, Theft by Taking and Influencing Witnesses in connection with the alleged conspiracy to alter Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) scores.

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