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Teachers' attorney: Atlanta test cheating report inaccurate, falsely accuses the innocent

11:56 AM, Jul 14, 2011   |    comments
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Mike McGonigle, Director of Legal Services, GA Assn. of Educators, July 13, 2011

TUCKER, Ga. -- A backlash is brewing against the test-cheating report implicating 178 Atlanta Public Schools teachers, principals and superintendents in a long-running scheme to correct their students' incorrect answers on standardized tests in order to make the schools look good.

The Director of Legal Services for the Georgia Association of Educators, Mike McGonigle, is investigating that investigation.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: CRCT Cheating Investigation

He told 11Alive's Jon Shirek, during an interview Wednesday at GAE's headquarters in Tucker, that he's already discovering errors and omissions in the report.

Teachers and principals, he said, who are written up in the report as having confessed to cheating on the students' tests, insist they never cheated and never confessed.

McGonigle said he is not ready to disclose how many teachers he thinks might be wrongly accused, but he did say he believes it could be most of those named in the report.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

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One of the first things that [educators named in the report who phone me] say is, "The report got something wrong. There were things in the report that I did not say, and the report makes it appear that I said them. Or things that exonerate me are not in the report." And so they feel that they are being unfairly characterized. They feel that they are being portrayed as guilty by association with some other folks that were uncovered in the investigation.

I would hope that the Interim Superintendent [of Atlanta Public Schools, Erroll Davis] would not rush to judgment and just take the investigators' report at face value or as the gospel truth. I mean, due process requires you to slow things down. Look at each individual employee on a case by case basis.

And I think that's what's kind of troubling a lot of people that I've been speaking to recently, is that things are not in the report that were stated to the investigators that would have exonerated them, but they've been lumped in and then called cheaters in the report.

What I wouldn't want to see happen is the district take the special investigators' report and simply copy and paste things into a charge letter [against each educator].

Under Georgia law, educators who are being accused of wrong-doing must be given written notice by the school district disclosing all of evidence, a summary of witness testimony, and documentation that backs up the allegations.

What the district should be doing is doing some of its own investigation and taking the report a bit critically.

I want to make sure employees are treated fairly and the process is fair.

We're in the process of investigating [the report], and we're investigating this very closely and very seriously, to see where the corrections need to be made. There are some inaccuracies in the conclusions and opinions that are contained in the report, and we will investigate and pursue those and have those things clarified.

One example: a lady was named in the report as a testing coordinator when she was not the testing coordinator. And the person who was the testing coordinator was nowhere mentioned in the report whatsoever. [Shirek asked: "Can you tell me who that was?"]  Well, not right now. I mean, I'm kind of in the process of pulling everything together. That's the kind of thing that somewhere, it got mixed up in the process, and it's really kind of shocking and saddening.

And to listen to these people call who are -- you know, picture elementary school teachers, they are the sweetest, kindest people that you'd ever want to meet.... And then to see them swept up in this and to be unfairly characterized by some of the state's most powerful attorneys, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, that's very troubling. It's very troubling.

It's also what I sometimes refer to as the criminalization of the profession. We've reached a point where it seems to have been somebody's decision that we needed to have the Georgia Bureau of Investigation investigate teachers, as if -- as if -- a crime, a street crime, had been committed. I'm not veering off and defending cheating... but there's a whole lot of people who went through that process who have felt thoroughly, thoroughly, demeaned and disrespected and treated as if they were street criminals. I mean, street criminals. And that's a very sad place to be, to find, education. I'm not sure that was very necessary.

There's a group of people who have been swept up in sort of a hysteria, a testing, a standardized testing hysteria. And you know, it seems, I wouldn't be surprised if we see that that group could be larger than the group that made these confessions of wrong-doing.

There is a number of folks who should keep their jobs.

Some of these people do not deserve to lose their jobs or their certificates. I think they've been caught up in the hysteria of the moment.

I definitely don't want to see cheating occur. Cheaters should be dealt with appropriately.

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