Retired APS teacher Lavonia Ferrell continues her testimony about cheating on CRCT tests during the summer school session of 2008 at Deerwood Academy. KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM
Photo: Kent D. Johnson
Photo: Kent D. Johnson

APS trial: Testing coordinator changed answers to help a friend

Former Atlanta Public Schools teacher Lavonia Ferrell changed students’ answers on the 2008 and 2009 state tests to help out her friend—former Deerwood Academy assistant principal Tabeeka Jordan, she testified in the Atlanta schools cheating trial Tuesday as a witness for the prosecution.

“She’s your friend?” Jordan’s attorney Akil Secret asked Ferrell.

“Is she?” Ferrell replied. “She was then, but is she now?”

Jordan is one of 12 defendants standing trial. She faces racketeering, false statements and writings, and theft by taking charges.

Ferrell said Jordan asked her to erase and correct students’ answers on the 2008 state tests so the school would meet federal Annual Yearly Progress goals. At the time, Ferrell was working as Deerwood’s testing coordinator.

Jordan and the school’s principal had figured out how many Deerwood students needed to pass summer 2008 state tests in order to make AYP—21—and counted out 21 answer sheets for Ferrell and retired teacher Margaret Merkerson to correct, Ferrell said.

“[Jordan] laid out the Deerwood 21 and that’s what we worked on,” Ferrell said.

As they worked, they chatted, guessing they’d probably go to jail for what they were doing, Ferrell said.

“My view is that we were trying to do the right thing but it was all wrong,” she said.

In 2009, Jordan asked her again to erase answer sheets. That time, Jordan said the answers needed to be changed not just so the school would meet AYP, but also district testing targets, Ferrell said.

Ferrell lied to state and district investigators about changing answers, she testified. She didn’t even tell her own husband what she had done until an interview with the district attorney’s office.

And in a phone call with Merkerson about the state investigation into cheating, she relayed a message from Jordan: “She said just stand your ground. Deerwood is the only school they don’t have anything on.”

APS trial: Testimony on answer-changing continues - 9:11 a.m.

A former Atlanta teacher testified Monday in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial that she changed students’ answers at Deerwood Academy in 2008 and 2009.

Former APS teacher Margaret Merkerson testified that during the summer of 2008, she and former Deerwood testing coordinator Lavonia Ferrell sat in a school conference room erasing and correcting students’ answers on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests. Merkerson said she changed answers again the following year.

Merkerson offered potentially damaging testimony against former Deerwood assistant principal Tabeeka Jordan, one of 12 defendants charged in a racketeering conspiracy. But defense attorneys challenged Merkerson’s veracity during aggressive cross-examinations.

Testimony on test-cheating at Deerwood Academy continues today with testimony from former Deerwood testing coordinator Lavonia Ferrell.

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