A former metro Atlanta school superintendent was caught on tape bullying the woman who launched a statewide erasure analysis that was a tipoff to widespread test cheating in Atlanta and Dougherty County schools.
But Kathleen Mathers, former director of the Governor's Office of Student Achievement, said the run-in with James Wilson wasn't unique.
"This was just one example of the resistance we faced," Mathers said Wednesday. "There were some people who were very much in favor of the work we did, and some who were very much against it."
The state launched investigations into test-cheating in Atlanta Public Schools after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published analyses in 2008 and 2009 that found suspiciously high gains on the CRCT. The erasure analysis conducted by Mathers uncovered statistically improbable wrong-to-right answer changes on the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, most notably in the Atlanta and Dougherty County school systems. It prompted Gov. Sonny Perdue to appoint a team of special investigators who ultimately found evidence of massive cheating by educators in both districts. In Atlanta, the investigators, said test cheating had gone on for years.
In early 2010, shortly after the release of the erasure analysis, Wilson, an education consultant and former school superintendent in Cobb and Fulton counties, met with Mathers, telling her that the analysis was a "huge mistake" and that many educators were upset at what was perceived as her "Gestapo tactics."
Local school superintendents "all feel like they're about to get their butts fired because of you," Wilson said.
He also hinted that he would try to use his political clout to undercut Mathers.
When pressed by Mathers to explain himself, Wilson said: "I'm not going to give you any threats. But let me tell you, I can get there."
In another exchange, Mathers stressed that results of the analysis were positive for most school districts.
"I don't know about that," Wilson responded.
"So, what are you saying? Don’t look under the hood of the car?" Mathers replied.
"No, I’m saying we should have fixed the car before you looked under it," Wilson responded.
Mathers kept an audio tape of her sitdown with Wilson. She said she gave a copy of the recording to investigators, along with other records, but never expected it to be made public.
"I just thought I needed to document what had happened," Mathers said,
The tape was obtained by Channel 2 Action News under the Georgia Open Records Act and made public earlier this week.
Mathers said she took maternity leave last year from her post as head the Governor's Office of Student Achievement and has not yet returned. Wilson was working as a consultant for Dougherty County at the time of his meeting with Mathers.
He later was hired by the school district to follow up on the erasure analysis. In a report to the local school board, Wilson said he found no evidence of cheating.
The state's special investigators found Wilson was not qualified to conduct the investigation.
In an interview this week, Wilson said he wasn't "trying to be rude, crude or mean" to Mathers in the meeting.
"I wasn't bullying anyone. I was already retired," he said. "I was just concerned like everyone else that what was coming out was bad."
In July 2011, special investigators issued a blistering report on APS, describing an enterprise where unethical — and potentially illegal — behavior pierced every level of the bureaucracy. The report named more than 170 educators, including 38 principals, as participants in cheating. More than 80 confessed. The investigators said they confirmed cheating in 44 of 56 schools they examined.
Those same investigators issued a report last month, detailing dozens of instances where educators were giving students answers during tests or correcting their mistakes afterward.
In the Dougherty County Public Schools system, 49 educators, including 11 principals, were implicated in test cheating.
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