By Maggie Lee

Atlanta school Superintendent Beverly Hall

Atlanta school Superintendent Beverly Hall says she will implement 29 changes in how high-impact tests are handled to prevent teachers or administrators from cheating by correcting students’ answers.

“In every profession. unfortunately, in every walk of life, you have people who, for whatever reason, are unethical,” Hall said Aug. 17 during her annual “State of the Schools” address.

She was explaining in part why 108 system employees are under suspicion of erasing students’ answers on Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and filling in correct responses.

“We want to make it so difficult for people to even think about cheating that we will minimize if not totally ever eliminate [it],” she declared.

Hitting CRCT score targets earns teachers in successful schools a pay-for-performance bonus – an incentive perhaps strong enough for some to cheat. But Hall rejects that proposition and said she stood by objective measures of success.

“I feel the people who would cheat would not take the time to work toward what they need to do to meet those accountability targets,” Hall said, placing the blame on cheaters, not the system.

“We have research,” she added, “that says if you teach using the best practices, appropriate systems, children will learn and you don’t have to cheat.”

During her speech and during interviews afterward, Hall promised that by the 2011 school year she would implement 29 recommendations from an independent blue ribbon panel about how to stop cheating and change the culture around testing.

The 2011 CRCT season should include surprise visits from county and perhaps state inspectors, a tighter chain of custody of the tests, and an automatic check for suspicious erasures. Also, teachers will take an ethics course.

A February state audit first suggested the secret fixes in Atlanta. When Hall ordered a detailed study, she found evidence of an acute problem in 12 Atlanta schools, a moderate problem in 13 more and minor concern in a final 33. None of the flagged schools are in Buckhead. Hall has temporarily reassigned 12 principals until investigations are completed.

Students whose answers were questioned have been enrolled in a 12-week accelerated academic catch-up program.

Both Hall and school board chairwoman LaChandra Burks said they had no intention of resigning over the scandal.

Burks was pleased with the superintendent’s remarks.

“That’s what the board expected. Burks said. “We’re holding Dr. Hall accountable.”

In another defense of the school system, Hall stood by the calculation that Atlanta high schools had a 69 percent graduation rate. That’s a rise from 39 percent in 2002, according to APS calculations.

A recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution report suggested hundreds of dropouts were improperly categorized as transfers. During the period ,the newspaper found 16,000 departures, explained Hall, “we had a loss in enrollment of 300 [high school] kids.”

She blamed the discrepancy on “dirty data” resulting from a transfer from an old computer system to a new one. She said the system has posted roughly consistent graduation rates since 2005.