The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s team of investigative reporters broke the story about suspicious standardized test scores and possible cheating in Atlanta Public Schools in 2008.

“We produced computer analysis which showed very suspicious patterns in the changes in scores,” Kevin G. Riley, editor of the AJC, told theGrio. “This story would never have come to light if it wasn’t for our reporting.”

The big question is whether this scandal is an isolated problem or a microcosm of a system that places too much emphasis on standardized testing, especially in disadvantaged or failing schools.

Is testing to blame?

Riley says the pressure to improve scores is enormous and subsequent AJC reporting “found suspicious test scores across the country. The computer analysis of changes doesn’t prove cheating but the scores need to be looked at.”

Critics say the No Child Left Behind education law puts undue focus on test results.

The scandal has rocked the school system in Atlanta. Parents are outraged and it has robbed tens of thousands of children an honest evaluation of their abilities.

Jerome Dorn, a disabled veteran, has a grandson who previously attended Deerwood Academy elementary school in south Atlanta. The school’s assistant principle, Tabeeka Jordan, is facing charges of racketeering, false statements and theft by taking.

“I know Tabeeka very well,” said Dorn, who was a volunteer at Deerwood. “I personally think she’s an excellent educator. I am sad and shocked that something like this could have happened.”

African-Americans are suspected

The majority, if not all, of the educators implicated are African-American, including Hall. Many of the schools impacted are in urban, inner-city, minority neighborhoods.

The district’s high test scores after Hall’s arrival at APS propelled Hall’s status to National Superintendent of the Year, won her more than $500,000 in performance bonuses and reaped in nearly $1 million in federal funds for Atlanta schools.

Atlanta native Sidmel Estes, who was an honors graduate of APS and Northwestern’s School of Journalism, said, “I am quite disappointed and disturbed by what is happening in the Atlanta Public School system.”

Estes comes from a family of esteemed African-American educators. Both her parents were lifelong employees of APS.

Her mother, Emellen Mitchell Estes, served for almost 40 years, including 20 years as the founding principal at M. Agnes Jones School. Her father, Dr. Sidney Harrison Estes, was a teacher, principal and later assistant superintendent of APS for many years. Her brother, Chris Estes, has been a principal for many years.

“They all believed in excellence and performance and nothing like this would have happened under their watch,” said Estes, a veteran journalist and adjunct professor of journalism at Clark Atlanta University. “I don’t understand why there has been such a shift in our priorities.”

“They are hiring people who are interested in increasing their salaries and test scores to increase their salaries, rather than educating our children.”

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