Beverly Hall came to Atlanta Public Schools in 1999 with the reputation as an urban school reformer bringing tough school standards and voicing a mantra of “no excuses” for failure.
Twelve years later, a special state investigator’s report found organized and systematic cheating in Atlanta to boost test scores, and it named 178 educators, inlcuding 38 principals, who were said to have taken part. Some of those who later pleaded guilty to charges linked to the cheating testified about pressure from above to show improvements to test results by any means necessary.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution triggered that investigation in December 2008 by printing a story about how much scores had risen for the Criterion-Reference Competency Test in an Atlanta school, and it questioned the probability of such increases.
An analysis by the AJC in 2009 showed suspicious score changes on the CRCT in a dozen Atlanta schools. Atlanta schools promised to investigate, but not much happened until 2010, when the state Board of Education ordered investigations into cheating statewide, including 58 Atlanta schools.
Atlanta Public Schools formed a Blue Ribbon Commission in 2010 to look into the allegations, but commission members had ties to Hall or the district. Its report showed cheating in just 12 schools, but the AJC reported that investigators had looked at less than half the schools in question, and the school system seemed intransigent in delving deeply into the issue. The governor ordered a special investigation with agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. They found evidence of cheating, and issued scathing assessment of the situation, accusing school leaders of hampering the investigation, destroying documents and intimidating employees into silence.
Thirty-five educators were indicted, including Hall. Twenty-one pleaded guilty and 13 went to trial. One educator died, and Hall announced she was ill with breast cancer, so the judge separated her for trial later. She died March 2, 2015, two weeks before closing arguments in the six-month trial of her former employees.