APTOPIX Atlanta Schools Cheating

Former Atlanta Public Schools School Research Team Director Tamara Cotman, center, is led to a holding cell after a jury found her guilty in the test-cheating trial on April 1 in Atlanta.
—Kent D. Johnson/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP

*Sentences for the Atlanta public school educators convicted on racketeering charges in one of the nation’s largest test-cheating scandals were handed down on Tuesday, with all but one of the ten getting jail time.

Erasing wrong answers was part of the cheating by the educators, who were under intense pressure to meet test targets, prosecutors said during a nearly six-month trial. Student achievement helped the former principals, teachers and administrators to secure promotions and cash bonuses.

The jail sentences ranged from serving one to seven years in jail.

Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter gave three of the educators 20-year sentences, ordering that seven years must be served in prison and the rest on probation.

Five more educators received five-year sentences; two were ordered to serve two years in prison and three to serve one year.

Two other convicted educators avoided potentially harsher punishments by making sentencing agreements with prosecutors. One was ordered to serve six months of weekends in jail and five years of probation.

The final educator to be sentenced also cooperated with prosecutors and apologized in court. She was sentenced to five years probation, with one year of an evening home curfew, and received no jail time.

The  eight receiving jail time can appeal within 30 days, and they can be out of jail on bond while the appeals are pending. Those who took the deals — former teacher Pamela Cleveland and former testing coordinator Donald Bullock — waived their right to appeal. They also agreed to apologize to students, parents and the court.

“There were thousands of children that were harmed in this thing,” Baxter said during the hearing, when he repeatedly got into heated exchanges with attorneys for the defendants.

“It’s like the sickest thing that’s ever happened to this town,” he later said.

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. Evidence of cheating was found in 44 schools with nearly 180 educators involved, and teachers who tried to report it were threatened with retaliation.