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Jail Terms Handed To Most Atlanta Teachers Convicted In Cheating Scandal

Updated at 12:25 p.m. ET

Two of the 10 former Atlanta public school employees convicted this month of conspiring to cheat on state tests to earn raises and bonuses took plea deals Tuesday while the others received jail time of between one and seven years.

Under her plea deal, former teacher Pamela Cleveland will serve five years' probation, including one year with home confinement between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. Under his deal, Donald Bullock, a former testing coordinator, was given six months of weekends in jail and five years' probation. Both those deals came on condition they won't appeal.

The other eight did not take the deals. The Associated Press reports that their sentences range from one to seven years. They can appeal within 30 days, the news service reported.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter called the scandal "the sickest thing that's ever happened in this town."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a listof all the defendants and their sentences.

Our original post continues:

Ten former Atlanta public school employees, who were convicted this month of conspiring to cheat on state tests to earn raises and bonuses, will be sentenced today.

Reporter Martha Dalton of member station WABE tells our Newscast unit that the judge delayed making the final decision on sentencing Monday "after he heard from defendants' friends and families. He told them he won't hesitate to send them to prison — for years, in some cases — but he'd give them a chance to negotiate with the prosecution." Each of them faces 20 years in prison.

"The only thing that we have asked from the very beginning is some acceptance of responsibility for what you've been convicted of now," District Attorney Paul Howard said.

Martha says that to receive lesser penalties, the defendants would have to "admit guilt and forgo their right to appeal."

As Eyder reported at the time of the convictions on April 1, the cheating scandal is thought to be the biggest in U.S. education. (You can read more about the context to the scandal on our education blog, NPREd.)

Here's the background to the scandal:

"This case dates to a report produced by the state in 2011 that found a 'school system fraught with unethical behavior that included teachers and principals changing wrong answers on students' answer sheets and an environment where cheating for better test scores was encouraged and whistleblowers were punished.' The report itself was prompted by a statistical analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that found some scores in the Atlanta school system were improbable. Originally, 35 educators were indicted by a grand jury, but many of them took plea deals and only a dozen of them ended up standing trial."

But as Dana Goldstein, a staff writer at the Marshall Project, told NPR on Monday, while this case is the largest of its kind, it's by no means the only one.

"A federal report in 2013 found 40 of 50 states are showing some evidence of this type of cheating, and an older study from the Chicago public schools looked at all the classrooms in that district, and it found evidence of teacher cheating on tests in 5 percent of classrooms," Goldstein said. "And something that's relevant to the Atlanta case is that that Chicago study seemed to suggest that when there were lots of incentives for adults tied to these student tests, that's when cheating increased."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.