Georgia (Jaime Sarrio-The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) – Educators from at least 13 Atlanta schools named in the state cheating investigation were paid thousands in bonuses tied to student test scores, according to a review of documents by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News.
$500,000 in bonuses were paid to educators at those 13 schools implicated in the state investigation, according to records obtained from Atlanta Public Schools.
District spokesman Keith Bromery said the bonus program, introduced by former Superintendent Beverly Hall in the early years of her tenure, was now “under review.” But the district is less focused on whether educators should be forced to pay back the bonus money, he said, and more interested in what plans should be put in place for the future.
A state investigation named about 180 educators, including 38 principals, as participants in cheating, including erasing and correcting mistakes on students’ answer sheets to standardized tests. More than 80 APS employees confessed. The investigators said they uncovered evidence of cheating in 44 of 56 schools they examined.
During that time, the district was awarding bonuses at schools that met academic targets. The pay-outs varied. Schools that met 70 percent of targets received bonuses for every employee, from bus drivers to the principal. According to state investigators, bonuses ranged from $50 to $2,000 per person, depending on the percentage of targets met school-wide. Targets included test scores and other measures such as attendance and discipline.
In one year, for instance, Peyton Forest Elementary, earned $61,000 in schoolwide bonuses, $1,500 per teacher. At this school, 10 people were accused of cheating on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests. Their cases are still pending.
Educators named in the investigation face termination and the loss of their teaching certificates. Criminal prosecutions could follow.
Atlanta Public Schools was considered a pioneer in so-called merit pay, a technique for rewarding educators for hitting goals in schools and classrooms. As of last year, the district had paid out nearly $17 million in bonuses since 2001.
Verdaillia Turner, president of the Atlanta Federation of Teachers, said educators generally didn’t think much of the bonus system.
“I’ve never known teachers to celebrate or to look forward to it or to aspire to achieve it. It was only $1,000 a year and by the time Uncle Sam finishes with you, you barely see that $1,000,” she said. “I think they can discontinue it without repercussions or without anyone losing sleep.”
Hall collected more than $580,000 in bonuses above her annual pay in the 12 years she worked for the district, based on academic goals laid out in her contract. As allegations of cheating emerged, so did questions about the effects of the reward system. State investigators said pressure to meet targets was the primary motivation for teachers and administrators to cheat on 2009 state standardized tests.
New Superintendent Erroll Davis has shown a willingness to rethink some of Hall’s practices. Davis said he wants to change the climate of the district so that parents and teachers feel like they have more input. The evaluation process is also under review. Davis believes people should be evaluated not only by superiors, but also by the people they serve.
“What we do will be driven by the needs of children and not by the needs of adults. And often they’re different,” Davis said.
Still, the corporate concept of bonus pay has gained footing in the education world, despite recent high-profile studies showing it does not increase test scores. Georgia has plans to revamp teacher pay in the coming years so some educators will be rewarded according to how much growth students show on standardized tests.
But some watchdog groups feel the scandal is an opportunity to put safeguards in teacher and educator contracts so in the future, taxpayers aren’t on the hook for educator misdeeds.
Monday, the district announced it would pull $6 million from savings to pay the salaries and benefits of educators named in the state cheating investigation over the next six months. Educators still employed by the district by law are entitled to a due process hearing before they are terminated.
“It’s wasted,” said John Sherman president of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation. “I feel teacher contracts should be amended in such a way that when a teacher is accused of a felony or misdemeanor, they could be suspended without bonuses or salaries.”
Source for story: http://www.ajc.com/news/atlanta/schools-accused-of-cheating-1091466.html