All but one of 10 former Atlanta public school educators were sentenced to prison on Tuesday in a widespread conspiracy to cheat on state tests, with the judge calling the case "the sickest thing that's ever happened in this town."
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter had delayed sentencing by a day and encouraged all the defendants to negotiate deals with prosecutors. But only two agreed to deals. In both those cases, Baxter followed the state's recommendations: He gave a former teacher one year of home confinement and a former testing coordinator six months of weekends spent in jail.
The remaining eight received harsher sentences, with three of them well beyond prosecutors' recommendations. The sentences ranged from one to seven years in prison.
But those eight may appeal within 30 days, and they could be out on bond while the appeals are pending. Those who took the deals — former teacher Pamela Cleveland and former testing coordinator Donald Bullock — waived their right to appeal. They also agreed to apologize to students, parents and the court.
An 11th convicted former educator had a baby over the weekend and will be sentenced later.
A grand jury indicted 35 educators in March 2013 on charges including racketeering, false statements and theft. Prosecutors said they were looking out for themselves, seeking bonuses for higher test scores rather than worrying about the education of their students. Defense attorneys said their clients were caught up in a prosecution that overreached in charging them with violating racketeering laws most often used against organized crime.
The educators said they faced pressure from supervisors — including former Superintendent Beverly Hall — to inflate students' scores in order to show gains in student achievement.
The process was lengthy: The months-long trial began in August with more than six weeks of jury selection, and testimony concluded in late February. The criminal investigation by the Fulton County district attorney's office lasted nearly two years.
The investigation involved at least 50 schools as well as hundreds of interviews with school administrators, staffers, parents and students. The district has about 50,000 students.
The cheating came to light after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that some scores were statistically improbable.
The Associated Press