APS Principals Deny Cheating

Atlanta principals say test monitors prevented cheating

Two principals of Atlanta schools that saw unusual gains on statewide tests this spring said cheating couldn’t have occurred because state test monitors were present.

The monitors were stationed at the schools, West Manor and White elementary schools, because they had been flagged in a state analysis of erasures on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests in 2010.

The two principals, Cheryl Twyman and Tamarah Larkin-Currie, were among 178 Atlanta Public Schools employees who were named in a state report into cheating on the 2009 CRCT. APS Superintendent Erroll Davis has asked all educators implicated in the investigation to resign. The two women face termination hearings.

Twyman said the unusual scores on this year’s tests could have been the result of changes in student population.

While the state investigation was ongoing last spring, math scores at both schools increased by a statistically unlikely amount on the 2011 tests, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that resulted in an article published Thursday. The AJC compared score increases at schools across Georgia, and five Atlanta schools stood out. The odds against the increases at the five schools ranged from about one in 700 to one in 21,000.

Davis said the scores warranted a closer look.

Some of the schools had monitors, and some didn’t. The increases at West Manor and White occurred despite the presence of test monitors.

“We could not make a move without the state monitors present,” Twyman said in a telephone interview that included Larkin-Currie and Robert Rubin, the lawyer who is representing them in their termination hearings.

Twyman said there were two state monitors assigned to her school during testing last spring, along with two Atlanta Public Schools monitors. She said two of her employees at West Manor were also assigned to watch the testing.

Those six people, plus school system officials who dropped in from time to time, oversaw testing in 14 classrooms, Twyman said. “I just can’t imagine anyone in their right mind trying to cheat.”

Larkin-Currie said there were roughly the same number of monitors and test rooms at White.

The state monitors’ role was to secure the tests in between testing, which ran over several days. They collected the papers, sealed them in envelopes with tamper-proof tape and locked them in a room. They also walked from class to class and observed testing sessions, usually without entering. To avoid disrupting students, they were asked only to enter if they suspected that testing protocols were being violated, said Kathleen Mathers, the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.

Neither principal could be reached before publication of Thursday’s article, despite messages left at their schools. A secretary at White told the AJC that all principals were told to refer media inquiries about the CRCT to APS spokesman Keith Bromery, and Bromery confirmed that. He arranged an interview with the principal of Toomer Elementary School, where test scores also shot up this year.

The Toomer principal, Nicole Evans Jones, said in Thursday’s AJC article that her increase in math and reading scores resulted from effective teaching, small class sizes, engaged parents and teaching aids, such as computerized white boards.

Twyman, who contacted the AJC after the publication of Thursday’s article, attributed the score increase at her school to a change in the student population. “I won’t say a big change,” she said. “One student can make a difference in your numbers.”


This article by Ty Tagami was originally published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.