A high-profile trial to prosecute 12 ex-educators in Atlanta for an alleged cheating ring began on Monday. The defendantscould face up to 20 years in prison for their alleged role in artificially raising students’ test scores in an attempt to boost their own salaries.
The beginning of the trial saw testimony from Justina Collins, a mum who claims she first noticed something was off when her third-grade daughter miraculously passed state tests after spending the entire school year struggling to keep up academically at Cascade Elementary School, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reported. According to her testimony, when Collins confronted the school’s principal about her daughter’s abrupt success, Principal Alfonso Jessie responded that some students are just really good test-takers, according to the AJC.
Unsatisfied with that answer, Collins took her concerns to the Atlanta Public School System (APS) central district office, where then-Superintendent Beverly Hall allegedly said there was nothing she could do at the time but that if Collins had any further questions she should contact her directly. (Hall is currently receiving treatment for stage IV breast cancer and has been noticeably absent from the courtroom.)
Collins has become the spokeswoman for APS parents, albeit reluctantly, according to the AJC. Initially refusing to get involved, she was soon subpoenaed by prosecutors who are now using her testimony to highlight the real-life consequences the cheating had on APS children and parents.
Collins says, as a result of inflated test scores, her daughter Nybria became ineligible for federal funds to get the extra academic help she needed, according to the Los Angeles Times. She continued to struggle. Currently, she’s in the 11th grade but reading at an 8th grade level, according to the AJC.
Collins’ story underscores what was a potentially unforeseen consequence of the cheating teachers’ actions: that the affected students’ academic careers would actually suffer in the long run, no matter how good the teachers had made them look on paper.
At this point, it is clear that Nybria was probably not the only student whose academic future was potentially compromised by the scandal, as it has been alleged that the cheating was systemic and occurred at 44 of 56 Atlanta schools where administrators pressured teachers to cross ethical lines.
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