APS Cheating Scandal

Former President Jimmy Carter radiates positivity at a press conference at The Carter Center in Atlanta on Thursday, August 20, 2015 to announce that his cancer has spread to four small spots on his brain, but that he is at ease.
Brenna Beech / WABE

Former President Jimmy Carter's battle with cancer, which put a spotlight on his faith and led to an outpouring of support, is among the state's top stories of 2015.

Other top stories from the past year include punishment for educators in one of the nation's largest school cheating scandals; problems with a lethal drug that led Georgia to temporarily halt executions; and the departure of the University of Georgia's longtime football coach Mark Richt.

Kent D. Johnson, Pool / Associated Press

A defense attorney in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal trial says it's time to start considering alternatives to the Redemption Academy proposed by Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard.

Gerald Griggs, who represented former teacher Angela Williamson, is frustrated with reports that Howard's academy has made little progress in the past six months.

"It's impossible to abide by the judge's order if it does not exist, or if it's on hold, or whatever they're terming it," he said. 

Former APS Dunbar Elementary teacher Shani Robinson listens as Kathleen Mathers, the former executive director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, continues her testimony under cross examination Wednesday afternoon Nov. 5, 2014, in Atlanta du
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson, Pool / Associated Press

The final teacher to face sentencing in the Atlanta schools test cheating case has been ordered to serve a year in prison and four months on probation.

Former elementary school teacher Shani Robinson was sentenced by a Fulton County Superior Court judge Tuesday. She was among 11 educators convicted in a conspiracy to inflate student scores on standardized tests in the Atlanta public school system.

Robinson's mother pleaded for leniency, noting Robinson has a 4-month-old son, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

APS Superintendent Looks Back At Her 'Tough' First Year

Jul 9, 2015
Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen with a student

It's been a full academic school year since Dr. Meria Carstarphen took over as Atlanta Public Schools superintendent, during the fallout from the historic cheating scandal.

Carstarphen has been charged with cleaning up the district, even as another investigation involving grade changing allegations unfolded on her watch.

After a year at the helm of one of the nation’s largest public school systems, Carstarphen still stands by her initial evaluation of the district as a “hot mess.”

APS headquarters
Nick Nesmith / WABE

Atlanta Public School students, whose test scores were changed by teachers resulting in one of the largest school cheating scandals in U.S. history, were academically impacted by the cheating.

That’s the conclusion of a recent report by Georgia State University.

GSU researchers studied 3,700 students affected by the scandal and found they lagged behind in reading and English for several years compared to their peers, whose tests were not manipulated.

Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A former Georgia Supreme Court Justice said a Fulton County judge “stepped over the line” in an interview with an Atlanta high school newspaper.

Former Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, now back in private practice, said in an interview on “A Closer Look” that most judges are “loath to talk to members of the media” because “most are fairly suspicious.”

Ward Sears said that’s what made Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter’s interview with Grady High School’s newspaper so surprising.

Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

An attorney for one of the former Atlanta Public Schools educators convicted in a test-cheating trial says a new group supporting them launches this week.

Gerald Griggs offered few details beyond a website named "FreeOurTeachersNow.com" at a church on Sunday according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

He says the organization will focus on changing "the minds and the hearts" of Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter and District Attorney Paul Howard.

Baxter plans to resentence three of the former educators who got the stiffest sentences on Thursday.

Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

This week's sentencing hearing in the APS cheating trial means defendants are just beginning the appeals process. Think of this as a fork in the road.

Fork one: file a motion for a new trial. Fork two: go straight to a court of appeals.

Each path could end up crossing the other down the line, but we'll set that aside for now. Whichever option defendants choose, lawyers will need a complete record of the trial.

“In this case it might take six months to a year to prepare this transcript," said Ed Garland, an Atlanta attorney not involved in the case.

Kent Johnson, Pool / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The sentencing hearing will continue Tuesday for 10 of the 11 former Atlanta Public Schools educators convicted for their roles in the test cheating trial, with the defendants poised to make a decision that will determine the next few years of their lives.

The ex-educators, who are charged with racketeering, are due back in court at 10 a.m. to tell the judge whether they choose to take a lighter sentence negotiated by the district attorney’s office in exchange for waiving their right to appeal and an apology.   

Kent Johnson, Pool / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Ten former teachers and administrators convicted of racketeering will be sentenced Tuesday instead of Monday. After hearing last-minute witness testimony, Judge Jerry Baxter pushed the sentencing back.

Character witnesses – friends, family members, and co-workers – all lined up and vouched for the defendants and plead for light sentences. Some defendants, like former testing coordinator Donald Bullock, spoke on their own behalf.

“My livelihood is gone,” Bullock said. “My license is gone, all because I told the truth.”

State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, listens to a question during a press availability in Atlanta, Monday, March 28, 2005, about the decades-old lynching case from Walton County, Ga., that never led to an arrest, despite federal and state investigations c
Ric Feld / Associated Press

Longtime Georgia State Representative Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, pleaded guilty to one count of filing a false tax document and no contest to five counts of mail and wire fraud in federal court on Thursday. Brooks also resigned from his House seat.

A sentencing date has not been set, but legal analyst Page Pate has a few ideas on what Brooks might face when he goes before a judge.

Pate also makes a few predictions on what the Atlanta Public School educators will face when some of them learn their fate in the test cheating trial on Monday.

Dessa Curb, a former teacher at Dobbs Elementary School, was the only one out of the 12 to be acquitted.
Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A lone Atlanta teacher was the only defendant out of 12 to receive a not guilty verdict in the Atlanta Public Schools test cheating scandal trial.

Former Dobbs Elementary School teacher Dessa Curb told Rose Scott and Denis O’Hayer on WABE’s “A Closer Look” that she always “believed she was going to be found innocent.”

Curb says she was shocked when she heard the first verdict read in court on Wednesday.

“All I could think of was I was going to be OK because God had promised good to me,” she said. 

Mike Bowers on A Closer Look, March 27, 2015
Jason Parker / WABE

Eleven former Atlanta Public Schools educators were found guilty of racketeering – some also were found guilty of lesser charges – in the APS test cheating trial.  The verdicts marked the end of an investigation that began in late 2008, when reporters for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noticed some suspiciously-high test scores in five area schools.

Judy Baxter / flickr.com/judybaxter

In 2009, reporters at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noticed some suspicious trends in Atlanta Public Schools' standardized test scores.  

From there, they went on to uncover widespread cheating that eventually led to the indictment of dozens of educators.  

Eleven former Atlanta Public Schools educators, who pled not guilty to multiple charges, were convicted Wednesday.

Former Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter Heather Vogell  helped uncover the story and recounted the case with "A Closer Look" hosts Rose Scott and Denis O'Hayer.

Former Atlanta Public Schools school research team director Tamara Cotman, center, is led to a holding cell after a jury found her guilty in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial.
Kent D. Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

After six months of testimony and nearly eight days of deliberations, the verdicts from the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial are in. Eleven out of 12 educators have been convicted of racketeering.

The lone person acquitted of all charges was former Dobbs Elementary School teacher Dessa Curb. Former school superintendent Dr. Beverly Hall was going to stand trial separately. She died last month.

Michell Eloy / WABE

Eleven former Atlanta Public Schools educators accused of participating in a test cheating conspiracy that drew nationwide attention have been convicted of racketeering charges.

The verdicts in the case were announced Wednesday in a Georgia courtroom. Only one of the 12 educators on trial was acquitted of the racketeering charge.

After reading the verdicts, Judge Jerry Baxter told the jurors he'd miss them.

Despite defense attorney's objections, Baxter ordered the defendants into custody immediately, with the exception of one, who's pregnant.

Atlanta Public Schools test cheating trial
Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Jurors are set to start their seventh day of deliberations in the trial of a dozen former Atlanta Public Schools educators accused of participating in a conspiracy to cheat on standardized tests.

The jury meeting in Atlanta is scheduled to resume its closed-door discussions on Tuesday morning.

A grand jury indicted 35 educators in March 2013. Many reached plea agreements with prosecutors.

Educators have said they faced pressure from supervisors to inflate standardized test scores to show gains in student achievement.

Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The jury will continue to deliberate in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial on Monday.  

Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears says she thinks the jury will take its time deliberating and will probably dismiss the charges that there was a pattern of organized criminal activity, under a federal statute called RICO.

Sears spoke to Denis O’Hayer and Rose Scott on "A Closer Look" on Friday. 

Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

A memorial service is scheduled for former Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Beverly Hall.

The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta says Hall's memorial is being held 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Philip.

Hall's memorial comes as closing arguments are held in the trial of 12 Atlanta educators who were among the 35 to be indicted in a standardized test cheating conspiracy.

Pool photo - OK to use, via Martha's twitter
Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Attorneys began closing arguments Monday morning in the Atlanta test cheating trial.

Twelve former APS educators face up to 20 years in prison for charges including racketeering and making false statements. Jurors have listened to six months of testimony, and now state attorneys are trying to convince them former educators conspired to cheat.

Fulton County prosecutor Clint Rucker argued cheating was systemic. He said teachers who changed students’ tests answers on the 2009 Criterion Referenced Competency Test corrupted students’ minds and spirits.

David Tulis / Associated Press

Former Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall died today from complications related to stage four breast cancer according to her defense team. Hall had been at the center of the APS cheating scandal. 

In March 2013, she was indicted along with 34 other former school officials on charges of racketeering, theft by taking, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. Those charges stemmed from an alleged systematic process of changing students’ answers on the 2009 Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT). 

Kent D. Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution Pool

The prosecution in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial rested its case Wednesday morning, but it's not over yet.

Since September of 2014, the state has been calling witnesses and presenting evidence. But now the defense gets to make its case. There are 12 defendants, so it could take a while.

First up: Dana Evans. She’s the former principal of Dobbs Elementary School. Evans is accused of making false statements as well as racketeering. Her former colleague, Mario Watkins, testified on her behalf. He was asked to describe what kind of principal she was.  

Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The cheating trial of 12 former Atlanta educators has been going on since last September. 

All of the defendants face charges related to racketeering, under a statute known as RICO.

WABE’s Martha Dalton spoke with RICO attorney David Hungeling to talk about the chances of getting such a conviction. The conversation starts with a definition of RICO. 

In the extended version of this conversation Martha Dalton and David Hungeling go deeper into examining RICO cases and evaluate the potential impact of this case if the state does get a RICO conviction.

Kent Johnson / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The defendants in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial are charged with racketeering, under a statute called RICO. The law was enacted to catch mobsters and serious criminals. So, can the state convince a jury that former educators deserve a RICO conviction?

RICO stands for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

David Tulis / Associated Press

The former Atlanta Public Schools human resources chief says the district's former superintendent ordered drafts of a report on the investigation into standardized test cheating allegations to be destroyed.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Thursday that Millicent Few said she was told it was legal to destroy the drafts because they weren't final.

As 2015 gets going, we’re checking in with WABE reporters on some of the stories and trends they’ll be watching.


The state legislature will have to wrestle with transportation issues this year. Michelle Wirth says a funding problem is looming.

Judge Jerry Baxter, presiding over the APS cheating trial, October 2, 2014
Kent Johnson / AJC

The judge in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial apologized today after stopping a television news report from being broadcast.

Judge Jerry Baxter signed an emergency motion Friday on behalf of the prosecution.

He lifted that order this morning.

WABE’s Rose Scott reports the reason behind all the drama.

BOB ANDRES: Atlanta Journal Constitution

Tuesday was  intense in the Atlanta cheating trial.

A parent breaks down on the stand while testifying about her special needs son.

WABE’s Rose Scott reports why the parent became upset.

In 2008, Keylina Clark’s son was struggling at Blalock Elementary.

He was a special needs student and was placed in what’s called an

Individualized Education Program  or I-E-P which is used to identify specific resources for special needs


But all students take the yearly standardized exam.

Kent D. Johnson, Multimedia Photojournalist, Atlanta Journal Constitution

In week three of the Atlanta Schools cheating trial, prosecutors are turning their focus to a former executive director.

Tamara Cotman has already been acquitted of influencing a witness.

That was last year and it too was related to the cheating scandal.

But as WABE’s Rose Scott reports, the state is now trying to link Cotman to the district’s widespread cheating and the attempt to cover it up.

For a long time, students at Harper Archer Middle School struggled in math.

Retired APS math teacher Oliver Banks during his testimony Wednesday morning.
Kent Johnson / AJC

 A longtime teacher in the Atlanta Public Schools says he and others were doing what they were told when they changed answers on the state’s 2009 standardized exam.


For the first time in the trial, the jury heard how some educators physically changed answers and it was from 76-year-old Oliver Banks.

He resigned in 2010 after 49 years as a teacher at Gideons Elementary.

“I felt bad about what I had done. It was just a pain. It was a pain, I could not stand it, you know, just stay there and face those people every day knowing that I done what I did.”