Judge reduces sentences for 3 who got harshest penalties in Atlanta schools …

1 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

3 in Atlanta cheating scandal have sentences reduced.

A state investigation found that as far back as 2005, educators from the 50,000-student Atlanta school system fed answers to students or erased and changed answers on tests after they were turned in. An Atlanta judge on Thursday reduced the sentences of three former school administrators convicted of participating in a widespread test-cheating scandal, saying he was uncomfortable with the stiff sentences he handed down earlier this month.Judge Jerry Baxter cut three former Atlanta educators’ sentences by more than half Thursday, saying he wanted to do something he thought was more fair.Michael Pitts, former Atlanta Public Schools school reform team director, listens April 13, 2015, to his daughter Kristen during a statements during sentencing of 10 of the 11 defendants convicted of racketeering and other charges in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial in Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta.(Photo: Kent D. Gasps could be heard in the courtroom April 14 when Baxter hit former Atlanta school administrators Tamara Cotman, Sharon Davis-Williams and Michael Pitts with 20-year sentences — seven to serve in prison and 13 on probation, and $25,000 fines.

A judge reduced former Atlanta educator Sharon Davis Williams’ sentence from seven years in prison to three and reduced her fine from $25,000 to $10,000 in court April 30. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. The original prison term — far longer than prosecutors had sought, and longer than many violent criminals serve — triggered public debate and a flood of criticism.

Johnson, Pool) Cotman, after her first sentencing, as to why she did not take a plea deal: “I would not be able to take a deal that would have perjured myself. Cotman’s lawyer tried to use the opportunity of being back in court to indirectly ask Baxter to throw out his client’s conviction, but Baxter made it clear that was not his intention. It was apparent Baxter reflected on the comments from many educators after the original sentencing that he overstated the impact of test tamping on students and ignored the effects of poverty.

On Thursday he seemed more weary than furious, and he made a plea on behalf of the poor children who bore the brunt of the cheating scandal when they were told they were working on grade level even though they were behind. “There’s a lot more to this tragedy than the cheating,” Baxter said. “I mean the poverty, and the utter hopelessness in a lot of these neighborhoods. . . . I do have faith our justice system will work even though it’s failed me once.” Pitts comment to Judge Jerry Baxter after his first sentencing in April: “I just didn’t know (about cheating). Acknowledging the “fine” teachers in many of APS schools serving the poorest of children, Baxter said, “But that alone is not going to solve the problem. Evidence of cheating was found in 44 schools with nearly 180 educators involved, and teachers who tried to report it were threatened with retaliation. Hopefully, after going through this, our community will put a microscope on it and hopefully make things better for these children who didn’t ask to be born in these conditions, but they are born in these conditions and need to get all the help they can to get out of there.” To be clear, the altering of student exams to make schools appear more successful was inexcusable, and the educators deserve to be punished.

Two defendants chose to negotiate lighter sentences in exchange for admitting their guilt, apologizing for their actions and waiving their rights to appeal. One must serve six months of weekends in the county jail; the other has been sentenced to a year of home confinement, meaning she must stay home from dusk until dawn but is otherwise free. I worry that attributing poor student performance to test tampering promotes a simplistic remedy: Make it harder for educators to cheat and punish them severely when they do. The original penalties were handed down after Judge Baxter delayed sentencing for a day to give the convicted former educators a chance to try to negotiate deals with prosecutors. It does not address the core issue of how to advance children who arrive at school far behind advantaged peers whose parents have already invested immense resources into developing their 5-year-old’s critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

A former testing coordinator was ordered to spend weekends in jail for six months and a former teacher must be at home from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. for a year. On last year’s state report card, which grades Georgia schools on a 100-point scale, Sylvan Middle scored 52.7 — below the average APS middle school grade of 65.8 and the average state grade of 73.8. In the five years after the state’s audit confirmed the AJC findings of cheating, testing protocols have tightened in Atlanta, and dozens of educators who confessed to cheating have been ousted from the classroom. Aside from the three former district regional directors, the defendants who didn’t take the deals received prison terms of one or two years, with the remainder of their five-year sentences to be served on probation. Schools with high numbers of poor children face enormous hurdles catching their students up to middle-class peers; these schools often have to compensate for the collapse of multiple supports in children’s lives, from family, to personal safety, to adequate housing, to health care.

And we’ve been telling poor kids, “Work harder and you will overcome these obstacles and succeed.” Yes, some kids somehow find the resiliency and grit to reach the top despite the boulders in their path. And if they do, I wish they would provide secure homes for their babies and complete their own education so they can lift themselves and their children out of poverty.

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