ATLANTA -- State testing data from every public elementary and middle school in Georgia during the past two years confirm that the Atlanta Public School district was certainly not the only school district in the state with severe cheating going on.
But it was, in fact, the worst.
The Governor's Office of Student Achievement examined, first, each and every CRCT answer sheet from every test taker in 2009 in order to conduct an "erasure analysis" of how many wrong answers were changed to correct answers.
More than 750,000 Georgia students took the CRCT that year, and the analysis took into consideration how often students themselves, on average, erase their own answers to change them while they take the test.
But unusually high numbers of erasures -- changing wrong answers to correct answers on a student's test -- were flagged for further analysis.
The Office of Student Achievement concluded that in 2009 there was a total of 74 elementary and middle schools all over Georgia -- out of about 1,700 -- that had "severe" problems with possible cheating by teachers and principals changing wrong answers to correct ones after the tests were administered, to make their schools look good.
Most of the 74 schools, 43 of them, were in the Atlanta school district.
The next worst district was Dougherty County, with 8 schools on the list, and DeKalb County with 6.
The rest of the 74 schools were scattered across ten other school districts:
Fulton County -- 3 schools
Clayton County -- 2 schools
Bibb County -- 2 schools
Spalding County -- 2 schools
Muscogee County -- 2 schools
Richmond County -- 2 schools
Carroll County -- 1 school
Gainesville -- 1 school
Quitman County -- 1 school
GA Department of Juvenile Justice -- 1 school
So, the State Board of Education cracked down and took over testing security -- at as many schools as possible -- in time for the 2010 CRCTs.
As a result, "Statewide, we've seen tremendous improvement," said the Executive Director of the Office of Student Achievement, Kathleen Mathers. "We don't have nearly the level of concern that we had just a year and a half ago," even in Atlanta.
The State School Board put people in classrooms to monitor the testing, and rotated teachers out of their own classrooms and into other classrooms during the testing.
"The biggest difference was in putting monitors in the buildings during the CRCT in 2010," Mathers said. "And those monitors stayed away from the test environments themselves and simply made sure that the test documents were secure both before and after testing, so that if there was any sort of temptation to change answers after tests had been completed, then that opportunity was not available to anyone."
And a study of all the answer sheets in 2010 found that the number of schools having "severe" problems with possible cheating shrank to just nine, statewide. Atlanta had three schools out of those nine, more than any other district had.
The other school districts were:
DeKalb County -- 1 school
Muscogee County -- 1 school
Richmond County -- 1 school
Clinch County -- 1 school
Oglethorpe County -- 1 school
Glynn County -- 1 school
Mathers said the popular impression that teachers and principals all over the state are manipulating test results more and more to make their schools look good is not an accurate impression.
"It's not even close. It doesn't happen everywhere and it doesn't happen all the time. It happens very, very infrequently. I can't stress enough the great job that educators are doing for kids across the state. They're doing it very honestly. They're very hardworking people. This [Atlanta cheating] is an exception to what we typically see.... Tests didn't do this. This is not something that tests did. This is something that a few adults did."
The state security measures were in place again for the 2011 CRCT testing, and Mathers said her office will be able to report in about six months if any possible cheating occurred despite the stepped-up security.