What has Atlanta Public Schools learned from the cheating scandal?

August 11, 2015 by Rebecca Burns Superintendent Maria Carstarphen and APS staff face two…

Georgia (Aug 12, 2015)August 11, 2015


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by Rebecca Burns

Superintendent Maria Carstarphen and APS staff face two challenges: implementing real improvements in an underperforming system and finding ways to help students harmed by systematic cheating of years past.

A bright banner hanging above the schoolhouse door reads: “Congratulations: Most Improved Test Scores.” And for Hope-Hill Elementary School on Boulevard, compliments are in order. The school’s rating on the state College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) rose 20 points—a 44 percent jump between 2013 and 2014, the biggest surge for any school in the Atlanta Public Schools system. This is all the more impressive considering that Hope-Hill, where 95 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, was slated for closure a few years ago due to low performance and dropping attendance.

A decade ago, stellar turnarounds such as this earned APS national praise. But now—in the wake of a cheating scandal that resulted in a trial, convictions, and TV footage of former educators handcuffed and headed for jail—gains at APS seem to come with an asterisk: Are they too good to be true?

“It makes me sad that we even have to ask that question,” says Maureen Wheeler, who became Hope-Hill’s principal two years ago. “We have done a heavy lift in two years, but that thought is still looming out there.”

Wheeler implemented a school-wide improvement program focused on teacher training. She upended conventional classroom methods and now has teachers specialize by subject, which usually doesn’t happen until middle school. “It’s been a lot of hard work,” she says.

And though no misdeeds were reported at Hope-Hill during the cheating investigation, Wheeler proactively implemented strict protocols during testing periods. She removes herself from the testing environment so she won’t seem to be interfering. Test materials are monitored at all times. Everyone clears the building at 3 p.m. (Testimony by staff at schools where fraud happened revealed after-hours “cheating parties,” during which teachers gathered to erase and correct wrong answers on tests.)

At the macro level, APS still faces the shadow of the cheating debacle. Superintendent Meria Carstarphen took over last year, filling the position that had been vacated by Beverly Hall, who was indicted along with 34 subordinates but died of cancer before the trial’s end.  …

Carstarphen and the APS staff face a twofold challenge: implementing real improvements in a scandal-rocked system that underperforms most of the state, and finding ways to help students who were harmed by the systematic cheating of years past. …

“When recovering from a crisis, three things are essential: communicate, be transparent, and be visible,” says Barbara S. Gainey, a crisis communication expert and chair of the communication department at Kennesaw State University. …


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu