Witness, Survivor of Atlanta School Cheating Scandal

Reporter personally experienced teacher misconduct

Famiy Photo: Howard University studet Adrienne Peterson experienced
cheating as an elementary student in the Atlanta public schools. 

WASHINGTON – Cheating by teachers and administrators in public schools is something I experienced firsthand as a student in the Atlanta public school system.  I attended Beecher Hills Elementary School every year through the 5th grade. I knew something wasn’t right for a long time.

In the second grade, Ms. Harris would read us questions out loud, the same questions we would later see on the standardized tests.  She used her voice to place special emphasis on the right answers to prepare us for the real thing.

“Okay, class,” she would say.  “Is the answer a, b, CCC.  Good,” she would say as we all answered c.  We quickly figured out she was telling us the correct answer by the inflection in her voice.

 “Here’s another,” she continued.  “Is the answer AAA, b, or c,” and we would all say the answer was a.

I went home and told my mom that my teacher would give us the answers on the tests, then called the Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. She didn’t believe me and told me that I went to one of the best public elementary schools in the city, so I shouldn’t be worried about their teaching styles.

After we had completed our standardized tests in the third grade, my teacher would pile them on her desk and take out her pencil. I could see her erasing something on the tests and then she would flip the pencil around and scribble something on the papers. My guess is she was erasing the wrong answers and filling in the circles that coincided with the correct ones.

When I was a 5th grader at Beecher Hills, I reported to our classroom one morning and got a small surprise. 

“Adrienne, we’re moving you to Ms. Johnson’s class today,” my teacher said as I walked into homeroom. I was 11. 

Our teacher told us the school wanted to “switch up” the classrooms for our standardized test.  This was unusual.  Normally we stayed in our classrooms for tests, where we normally sat in our usual seats, but this day we dutifully made our way down the hall to a different room. 

Perkins is a journalism major graduating in May

My assigned seat was near the center of the classroom. During the test, I noticed the teacher overseeing the exam telling other students to change their answers.  “You should really change that answer,” she would say, or “Go back and look at that one again.”  Sometimes, she would come to me, look over my shoulder and ask me to flip to a page in the test and review my answers. 

I would learn later that I had been in the midst of the biggest scandal in public school history.  Forty-four schools were found to be involved in widespread cheating. It ended with several teachers and administrators went to jail for their misconduct and others were fired.  Atlanta public schools Superintendent Beverly Hall was accused of condoning and pressuring teachers and administrators to change students' grades for years to make the school system appear better than it was.

She died of breast cancer in 2015 before she could stand trial.

Ironically, two years before her role in the cheating scandal was revealed, the American Association of School Administrators named Beverly Hall the national Superintendent of the Year. The organization credited her rising test scores and graduation rates and called Atlanta “a model of urban school reform.”