Former Dobbs Elementary School teacher Derrick Broadwater testifies Wednesday in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial before Judge Jerry Baxter in Fulton County Superior Court. (Kent D. Johnson, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: Kent D. Johnson
Photo: Kent D. Johnson

Former APS teacher says he’d erase cheating if he could

There was no point in telling the truth about cheating at Dobbs Elementary School, former Dobbs teacher Derrick Broadwater testified Wednesday during the Atlanta schools test-cheating trial.

“I didn’t think it was going to go anywhere because it’s Atlanta Public Schools,” Broadwater said of the state investigation into cheating. That investigation eventually led to the indictment of dozens of Atlanta educators, including Broadwater.

Regional supervisor Michael Pitts had told Dobbs teachers not to talk to GBI investigators “because nothing is basically going to happen to anybody,” Broadwater said. And besides, the former fourth-grade teacher said, he didn’t want to get in trouble himself.

But Broadwater eventually came clean, pleaded guilty to lesser charges earlier this year and agreed to testify in the case. He said Wednesday he regretted erasing and changing students’ answers on state tests and using copies of tests to “prep” them.

“If I could erase time I would go back to 2006 and erase every single part so we could start over,” he said.

Broadwater’s testimony was part of the state’s case against 12 former Atlanta Public Schools employees accused of participating in a test-cheating conspiracy. The defendants include former Dobbs fourth-grade teacher Angela Williamson, former Dobbs principal Dana Evans and former regional supervisor Michael Pitts.

Broadwater said he cheated in part because of Evans’ constant reminders of the importance of meeting performance targets for state tests. He said Evans told teachers that if Pitts, her boss, put her on an improvement plan because of low test scores, she would put them on plans too.

But under cross-examination, Broadwater admitted he cheated even before Evans became his principal.

In a 2008 school newsletter, Evans told teachers it would take courage, perseverance and hard work to meet the school’s goals.

“She doesn’t say it takes cheating or lying, right?” attorney Bob Rubin, who represents Evans, asked.

Broadwater agreed.

Still, during a staff meeting in fall 2010, Evans didn’t object when Pitts, the regional supervisor, suggested staff shouldn’t talk to the GBI investigators, Broadwater said.

Broadwater testified that Pitts said, “While teachers are running around telling the GBI things about the different principals, nothing’s going to happen to those principals. They’re still there.”

Although Pitts’ attorney George Lawson later suggested that 12 Atlanta principals were actually removed from their schools around that time, Broadwater said he believed Pitts had the power to set the course of a teacher’s career. So he repeatedly told investigators he didn’t know about cheating at Dobbs.

“If you have someone like Mr. Pitts telling you not to say anything … what could you do?” he asked.

Broadwater also said he did not recall Evans confronting him about a student’s report of possible cheating in Broadwater’s class.

The student, now in high school, testified last week that Broadwater threatened to beat him if he lost his job over cheating. Broadwater, who was terminated in 2012, testified Wednesday he didn’t recall confronting the student and had never threatened to kill a child.

Wednesday marked the last full day of testimony this year in the APS trial, which is expected to stretch well into 2015. In a holiday gesture, jurors gave candy to Judge Jerry Baxter and other Fulton County Superior Court employees. There will be a half-day of testimony today, then the trial adjourns until Jan. 5.

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Staff writer Bill Rankin contributed to this article.