Cheating shadow also lingers in Dougherty County

The Dougherty County school system, like Atlanta’s, is trying to turn the page from its own test-cheating scandal.

A few days before Christmas in 2011, a state-commissioned report found 49 educators in the South Georgia school district were involved in testing misconduct, and 18 confessed to cheating. The report said a fear of failure, the consequences from low test scores and mismanagement led educators in 11 of Dougherty County’s 26 schools to cheat.

The investigation grew from suspicions raised first by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after an erasure analysis showed statistically improbable answer changes on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test in Atlanta schools. The newspaper looked at other school systems, and the governor and state were soon doing their own investigations.

The highest score changes were found in Atlanta, and the second highest in Dougherty County, a 16,000-student district that encompasses the city of Albany.

Unlike Atlanta, no Dougherty teachers were indicted. Prosecutors found no evidence of a conspiracy to cheat.

The state’s Professional Standards Commission revoked the license of one Dougherty teacher. Twenty more received suspensions ranging from 40 days to three years. The PSC reprimanded five other teachers and issued warnings to two others. The PSC found no probable cause to discipline 17 teachers. One teacher’s case is pending and another is awaiting judicial review.

The current history there still makes for troubling reading.

Six Dougherty schools with chronically low state standardized test scores would be eligible to be taken over by the state under Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed “Opportunity School District” plan. Also, three Dougherty schools were recently rated by the state as having an “unsatisfactory” safety climate. The rating was based on student suspension rates, absenteeism and other factors.

Superintendent Butch Mosely said student disciplinary problems are the main challenge for the district. Mosely became the district’s interim superintendent in January 2012 and was named permanent superintendent a year later.

The Albany Herald reported that Mosely told the Dougherty Rotary Club this month the system needs improvement.

“Graduation rates are in the 60s, we want 90 percent. We want a 90 percent graduation rate … That can be done here in Dougherty County,” he said.