Then-Atlanta superintendent of public schools Beverly Hall smiles after she was named the 2009 Superintendent of the Year at the American Association of School Administrators’ National Conference on Education in San Francisco. Hall died in March, and on April 1,  11 teachers were found guilty of racketeering and other charges. (Paul Sakuma/AP)

An Atlanta jury convicted 11 teachers of racketeering and other crimes in a standardized test-cheating scandal believed to be the worst of a wave of test cheating in nearly 40 states and Washington, D.C. — not by students but by teachers and administrators who were under pressure to meet certain score goals at the risk of sanction if they failed.

The case stemmed from a 2013 indictment by a grand jury of Beverly Hall, the now-deceased Atlanta schools superintendent, and 34 teachers, principals and others. Twelve teachers eventually went to trial;  one was acquitted of all charges and the 11 others were all convicted of racketeering — under a law used against  the Gambino organized-crime family — plus a variety of other charges.  Prosecutors alleged that Hall had run a “corrupt” organization that used test scores to financially reward and punish teachers.

The extent of the test-cheating scandals around the country remains unknown because they are hard to find and prove. In Atlanta, the case developed only with the determination of two governors who allowed investigators to do their work with as much time and subpoena power as they needed. The indictment said:

Over time, the unreasonable pressure to meet annual APS [Atlanta Public Schools] targets led some employees to cheat on the CRCT [Criterion Referenced Competency Tests].  The refusal of Beverly Hall and her top administrators to accept anything other than satisfying targets created an environment where achieving the desired end result was more important than the students’ education.

The indictment of Hall, who died last month after continuing to deny any wrongdoing, was shocking to many because she was well-respected in the education world, having been named the 2009 Superintendent of the Year. Maureen Downey of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which helped uncover some of the scandal, wrote in a recent piece that her legacy would be significant, too, but not in the way she would have liked:

There is one certain legacy of the Hall era at APS: No one will take remarkable leaps in test scores at face value any longer.

How did it happen? No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush’s chief education initiative, and then Race to the Top, President Obama’s central education program, placed increasingly high stakes on standardized test scores. They had to go up, or else there would be negative consequences not just for students but schools and teachers and principals. Such testing mandates were coupled with a “no excuse” management push by school reformers who said teachers had, well, no excuse not to raise their students’ test scores. Not sick or hungry students, not a lack of materials, not overcrowded classrooms. Obama’s Race to the Top initiative — which pit states against each other in competing for federal funds in exchange for implementing specific school reforms — linked student test scores to teacher evaluations and pay.

At some point, some schools began reporting test scores jumping high in just a year, though later, these “miracles”  did not stand up to scrutiny.

What exactly happened in Atlanta? Here are some excerpts from the indictment:

… While Superintendent of APS, Beverly Hall set annual performance objectives for APS and the individual schools within it, commonly referred to as “targets.” If a school achieved 70% or more of its targets, all employees of the school received a bonus. Additionally, if certain system-wide targets were achieved, Beverly Hall herself received a substantial bonus. Targets for elementary and middle schools were largely based on students’ performance on the Criterion Referenced Competency Test a standardized test given annually to elementary and middle school students in Georgia. Additionally, student attendance was a contributing factor to achieving targets and obtaining bonuses.

Beverly Hall’s targets often set more rigorous goals for schools than Adequate Yearly Progress a measure of year-to–year student achievement on statewide assessments created under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 Under Beverly Hall’s target system, schools had to perform at a higher standard on the CRCT than otherwise required by the State in order to receive a bonus. AYP required schools to have a certain percentage of students merely pass the CRCT.

The Georgia Department of Education requires that the CRCT be administered under conditions to prevent tampering and other irregularities that could affect test results. Any deviations from these procedures are prohibited. Beverly Hall was required, by statute, to abide by and enforce the regulations of the regarding test administration and to certify in writing that those regulations had been followed.

APS principals and teachers were frequently told by Beverly Hall and her subordinates that excuses for not meeting targets would not be tolerated. When principals and teachers could not reach their targets, their performance was criticized, their jobs were threatened and some were terminated. Over time, the unnreasonable pressure to meet annual APS targets led some employees to cheat on the CRCT. The refusal of Beverly Hall and her top administrators to accept anything other than satisfying targets created an environment where achieving the desired end result was more important than the students’ education.

To satisfy annual targets and AYP, test answer sheets were altered, fabricated, and falsely certified. Test scores that were inflated as a result of cheating were purported to be the actual achievement of targets through legitimately obtained improvements in students’ performance when, in fact, the conspirators knew those results had been obtained through cheating and did not reflect students’ actual academic performance.

As part of the conspiracy, employees of APS who failed to satisfy targets were terminated or threatened with termination, while others who achieved targets through cheating were publicly praised and financially rewarded. For example, teachers who reported other teachers who cheated were terminated, while teachers who were caught cheating were only suspended. The message from Beverly Hall was clear: there were to be no exceptions and no excuses for failure to meet targets.

Beverly Hall placed unreasonable emphasis on achieving targets; protected and rewarded those who achieved targets through cheating; terminated principals who failed to achieve targets; and ignored suspicions CRCT score gains at schools within APS. As a result, cheating became more and more prevalent within APS, until by the time the 2009 CRCT was administered, cheating was taking place in a majority of APS’s 83 elementary and middle schools. This was substantiated by GOSA’s erasure analysis, which identified 43 APS elementary and middle schools with at least one out of four classrooms within those schools having a statistically improbable number of erasures changing wrong answers to right answers. GOSA’s erasure analysis identified an additional 9 APS elementary and middle schools as having at least one out of five classrooms with a statistically improbable number of erasures changing wrong answers to right answers. Confessions by dozens of APS employees subsequently confirmed what GOSA’s statistical analysis indicated; widespread cheating occurred on the 2009 CRCT.

It was further a part of the conspiracy and endeavor that targets achieved through cheating were used to obtain financial and other rewards for many of the conspirators.

It was further part of the conspiracy and endeavor that targets achieved through cheating were used by Beverly Hall to obtain substantial performance bonuses.

It was further part of the conspiracy and endeavor that Beverly Hall and other conspirators would interfere with, suppress and obstruct investigations into cheating using various methods. Conspirators would refuse to investigate reports of cheating; suppress and deny the existence of reports of cheating; fail to act upon APS investigators’ conclusions that cheating was occurring; suppress and deny the APS investigators’ conclusions that cheating was in fact occurring; fail and refuse to provide complaints of cheating to the Governor’s Special Investigators, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and investigators from the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office; and intimidate witnesses with the intent to hinder, delay, or prevent the communication of criminal offenses to law enforcement officers. When questioned by the Governor’s Special Investigators and law enforcement officers, many of the conspirators made false statements some under oath denying their knowledge of and participation in the cheating.

It was further part of the conspiracy and endeavor that each Defendant agreed that a conspirator would commit, attempt to commit; or solicit, coerce; or intimidate another person to  commit at least two acts of racketeering activity….

and this:

4. BEVERLY HALL, in the County of Fulton and State of Georgia, on or between the 9th day of October, 2006 and the 31st day of October, 2006, the exact dates being unknown to the Grand Jurors at this time, while an employee of a government institution in breach of her duties as such employee, did unlawfully take U.S. currency, the property of APS, with the intention of depriving said owner of said property, by causing APS to issue her a monetary bonus based on 2006 CRCT results for schools in APS which she knew were false,

5. BEVERLY HALL, in the County of Fulton and State of Georgia, on or between the 10th day of September, 2007 and the 31st day of October, 2007, the exact dates being unknown to the Grand Jurors at this time, while an employee of a government institution in breach of her duties as such employee, did unlawfully take US. currency, the property of APS, with the intention of depriving said owner of said property, by causing APS to issue her a monetary bonus based on 2007 CRCT results for schools in APS which she knew were false;

6. BEVERLY HALL, in the County of Fulton and State of Georgia, on or between the 1st day of September, 2008 and the 31st day of October, 2008, the exact dates being unknown to the Grand Jurors at this time, while an employee of a government institution in breach of her duties as such employee, did unlawfully take US. currency, the property of APS, with the intention of depriving said owner of said property, by causing APS to issue her a monetary bonus based on 2008 CRCT results for schools in APS which she knew were false;

7. BEVERLY HALL, in the County of Fulton and State of Georgia, on or between the 14th day of September, 2009 and the 31st day of October, 2009, the exact dates being unknown to the Grand Jurors at this time, while an employee of a government institution in breach of her duties as such employee, did unlawfully take U.S. currency, the property of APS, with the intention of depriving said owner of said property, by causing APS to issue her a monetary bonus based on 2009 CRCT results for schools in APS which she knew were false;

8. BEVERLY HALL, in the County of Fulton and State of Georgia, on or between the 4th day of November, 2009 and the 30th day of September 2010, the exact dates being unknown to the Grand Jurors at this time, while an officer or employee of a government institution in breach of her duties as such officer or employee, did unlawfully take U.S. currency, the property of the with the intention of depriving said owner of said property, by causing the Distinguished District monetary award from the GaDOE to be issued to Parks Middle School by reporting 2009 CRCT results that she knew were false;

9) BEVERLY HALL, in the County of Fulton and State of Georgia, on or between the 4th day of November, 2009 and the 30th day of September 2010, the exact dates being unknown to the Grand Jurors at this time, while an officer or employee of a government institution in breach of her duties as such officer or employee, did unlawfully take U.S. currency, the property of the with the intention of depriving said owner of said property, by caused the Distinguished District monetary award from the GaDOE to be issued to Benteen Elementary School by reporting 2009 CRCT results that she knew were false;

10) BEVERLY HALL, in the County of Fulton and State of Georgia, on or between the 4th day of November, 2009 and the 30th day of September 2010, the exact dates being unknown to the Grand Jurors at this time, while an officer or employee of a government institution in breach of her duties as such officer or employee, did unlawfully take U.S. currency, the property of the with the intention of depriving said owner of said property, by causing the Distinguished District monetary award from the GaDOE to be issued to D.H. Stanton Elementary School by reporting 2009 CRCT results that she knew were false;  which conduct constitutes racketeering activity pursuant to O.C.G.A. 16-143