Jury selection begins Monday for 12 former Atlanta Public Schools employees accused of conspiring to alter and boost students' standardized test scores, reports the New York Times. The trial promises to be both bizarre and tragic, with elementary teachers facing the possibility of prison and a major metropolitan school district named as a racketeering “enterprise.” The trial is the climax of a cheating scandal that has reverberated in Atlanta for five years, ruining careers and reputations, reconfiguring the school district's leadership and raising questions nationally about the role that standardized test results should play in driving education reform.
The pain has been felt particularly keenly among African-Americans, who make up 54 percent of Atlanta's population. It is largely black educators who have been accused, and largely black students who have been harmed by bogus evaluations of their educational progress. A state investigation in 2011 found that 178 principals and teachers in the city school district cheated. They are suspected of changing standardized test scores to make it seem as though their students were meeting ambitious benchmarks for success. Educators in some cases were said to have convened erasure parties to change students' answers, while the district's top leaders created a “culture of fear,” investigators said, in which principals were expected to meet unrealistic testing goals or face public humiliation or reassignment.