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APS trial: We didn’t call it cheating, former Atlanta educator says

Former APS Venetian Hills principal Clarietta Davis testifies Wednesday. Davis is one of the former co-defendants that took a plea deal in January 2014. KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM
Former APS Venetian Hills principal Clarietta Davis testifies Wednesday. Davis is one of the former co-defendants that took a plea deal in January 2014. KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Teachers at Venetian Hills Elementary School didn’t call it cheating, former Venetian Hills testing coordinator Milagros Moner testified Thursday. But that’s what it was, she said.

“Teachers would just come to me and ask can they come to my office at the end of the day to come look at the test,” she said.

In testimony Thursday in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial at Fulton County Superior Court, Moner said she was aware of cheating at the school over the course of at least three years starting in 2007. Former Venetian Hills principal Clarietta Davis changed answers on state tests, as did teachers, she said. Davis also testified Thursday.

Thursday marked the conclusion of the fifth week — and 18th day — of testimony in the trial, the end of which is nowhere in sight.

Moner’s and Davis’ testimony was part of the state’s case against former regional executive director Sharon Davis-Williams, one of 12 defendants standing trial in the test-cheating scandal.

Moner said Davis asked her to check on how students were doing on state tests. When Moner told her they weren’t doing well, Davis told her to “get some teachers to help” her, Moner said. Moner understood that to mean to change answers.

But Moner admitted under cross-examination that as the teachers changed answers together, they chatted about the erasures and how “ridiculous” it was. None of them wanted to change answers, but like other prosecution witnesses, Davis said she did it because she feared losing her job.

Davis’ hands-on involvement in the erasures became a point of contention for some defense attorneys. Davis repeatedly said she did not wear gloves while changing answers. Moner testified that Davis did wear gloves.

“Since she has acknowledged her guilt, she has always been consistent in her version of the events and has been extremely remorseful and repentant,” Davis’ attorney Bruce Harvey said.

Defense attorney Benjamin Davis asked Judge Jerry Baxter to strike Clarietta Davis’ testimony because of the discrepancy, claiming it amounted to perjury.

Baxter denied his request.

“Perjury is being committed daily here,” Baxter said. “It’s going to be up to the jury that you have selected to determine what the truth is.”

Cheating led to tougher school goals, defense lawyer says — 11:57 a.m.

School performance goals that ratcheted up each year were the result of cheating, not pressure from former Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Beverly Hall, defense attorney Teresa Mann said during cross-examination this morning in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial.

Under Hall’s administration, schools were expected to meet goals for performance on state tests and in other areas. Educators’ job evaluations and bonuses were tied to meeting those goals. Prosecutors have said pressure to meet those goals was a key reason for cheating.

On Thursday, Mann, who represents former regional executive director Sharon Davis-Williams, attacked that idea.

Mann walked former Venetian Hills Elementary School principal Clarietta Davis through her school’s performance over the years. Because each year’s goals were based on the past year’s performance, if cheating improved a school’s performance, the school faced higher targets the next year.

“It wasn’t the district that was causing the number to be high,” Mann said. “It was the result of you cheating.”

Davis disagreed.

In a year in which Davis admitted cheating took place, the school met most of its goals, she said. In another, it did not.

In response to Mann’s questions, Davis said although her school failed to meet most of its goals for several years, she was never put on an improvement plan or told her contract with the district would not be renewed.

“Did you (cheat) for the purpose of making money for Dr. Beverly Hall?” Mann asked her.

“I did it solely for the purpose of making targets,” Davis answered, not for making money for anyone within APS.

Ex-principal to face cross-examination — 6:34 a.m.

Clarietta Davis returns to the witness stand Thursday in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial and will face cross-examination from defense attorneys.

The former Venetian Hills Elementary School principal testified Wednesday that she changed her students’ answers from wrong to right on standardized tests because she feared what might happen if her school did not meet testing targets that she considered unrealistic.

“My motivation was to save my job and the job of others,” Davis somberly told jurors.

“I regret it because I did have some smart children,” said Davis, an APS educator from 1975 to 2010. “ … The children were making progress but not enough to keep up with the targets. We just couldn’t.”

Davis, now serving a sentence of two years on probation, is one of 21 educators who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with Fulton County prosecutors. She is the fifth such defendant to testify and, unlike some others, stuck to her plea agreement.

Davis admitted to changing answers on standardized tests taken by her students in spring 2008 and allowing it to happen again the following school year. In a July 2011 report, the governor’s special investigators said she wore gloves while erasing to avoid leaving fingerprints on answer sheets.

In January, when she entered her guilty plea, Davis lost her composure when reading her letter of apology to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter.

“It’s devastating,” Davis said, her voice breaking. “Each day of my life I’m reliving the what ifs and thinking if only I could do it over again. … This is a permanent scar in my life.”

On Wednesday, prosecutors called Davis as a witness against former regional supervisor Sharon Davis-Williams, one of 12 defendants on trial.

Davis-Williams knew Venetian Hills students came from a transient population and that most performed below grade level, Davis said. Yet Davis-Williams only wanted to know what Davis was going to do to meet district test-score targets that continued to rise year after year, Davis said.

“Maybe you do not have the right people on the bus,” Davis-Williams told her, Davis testified. Davis said she understood this to mean her job and her staff’s jobs were on the line.

Davis was the 45th witness called to testify so far by the prosecution and many more are expected to follow her to the stand over the coming weeks, or even months.