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Governor put GBI on test cheating probe

POSTED: October 20, 2010 10:50 a.m.
ATLANTA — State investigators began questioning teachers Monday after the governor ordered the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to help a probe into possible cheating on standardized tests at schools in Atlanta and Dougherty County.
Gov. Sonny Perdue took the action weeks after he appointed former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers and ex-DeKalb County District Attorney Bob Wilson to review whether teachers changed students’ tests.
Perdue ordered the investigation in August after saying he was disappointed in the “woefully inadequate” internal reviews conducted by the districts following a statewide probe that showed an unusually high number of erased answers on first- through eighth-grade standardized tests taken in spring 2009.
Some 50 agents were briefed early Monday on the investigation, said GBI spokesman John Bankhead. They wasted little time getting involved, as several visited at least three Atlanta schools on Monday, said school spokesman Keith Bromery. He said Atlanta schools Superintendent Beverly Hall issued a memo urging staffers to work with the agents.
“We welcome this investigation and we will fully cooperate with any group or individuals associated with this investigation,” he said.
Officials in Dougherty County, where investigators have already interviewed the district’s testing coordinator, adopted a similar strategy.
“Our position is, whatever you want in terms of records and assistance, we’re going to help you. We want to get to the bottom of it just as bad as everyone,” said Tommy Coleman, an attorney for the school system. “We know we’re the second fiddle to the city of Atlanta, but we want to make sure they have all the information they need.”
The investigators are not targeting teachers as long as they are truthful during the questioning, Bankhead said. But he said they are searching for administrators who could be charged with altering public documents — a violation that can carry a prison sentence between two to 10 years.
The state investigation comes after the 50,000-student Atlanta district completed its own probe that showed possible cheating in 12 schools, compared to the 58 that the state flagged as having questionable test results. Dougherty County, a 16,000-student district, found no evidence of cheating in its investigation.
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