The legacy of Beverly Hall: Did former APS school chief care more about scores than students?

With the death of former Atlanta school chief Beverly Hall will come a debate over her legacy.

Was she a driven leader who demanded too much of educators who were not up to the job? Or did she set unrealistic goals and then ignore blatant evidence that her employees were cheating to reach those goals?

Even worse, did Hall conceal the evidence as not to sully her national reputation as a visionary leader? Was her vaunted reputation more important than the truth?

There is one certain legacy of the Hall era at APS: No one will take remarkable leaps in test scores at face value any longer.

Hall’s last years were spent fighting both cancer and charges of racketeering and conspiracy related to the APS cheating scandal. Her illness delayed her trial.

In the last years of her life, Beverly Hall was focused on the courtroom more than the classroom as she faced trial. However, her illness delayed her trial. (BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM)

In the last years of her life, Beverly Hall was focused on the courtroom more than the classroom as she faced trial. However, her illness delayed her trial. (BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM)

While Hall gained a national reputation for her condemnation of the tyranny of low expectations for poor children, she stands accused of her own form of tyranny.

Fulton County prosecutors charged her with caring more about test scores than students. Under pressure by their principals to raise test scores, dozens of APS educators resorted to cheating on the state CRCT, ranging from subtle prompts to students during testing to cheating “parties” where educators erased wrong answers.

Teachers described being worn down by relentless demands they do better. Some felt their jobs were at stake. They all felt there was no way to meet their target scores without cheating.

The end result of Hall’s push for improved performance was the opposite goal of what she had sought. She arrived in Atlanta promising to prove that poor children could learn to high standards with dedication, effort and data-driven instruction.

But, in the end, Hall created a perception students in Atlanta’s poorest schools were unteachable, that teachers could not move their students to higher and higher levels without cheating.

It was an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation in 2009 that first uncovered troubling test disparities in Atlanta Public Schools, prompting Gov. Sonny Perdue to order a statewide review of erasure rates on all state exams in 2009

That review found excessive numbers of wrong-to-right changes at 58 Atlanta schools — more than two-thirds of the district’s elementary and middle schools.

Alarmed and angry over what he considered Hall’s failure to take the findings seriously and act, Perdue asked former state Attorney General Mike Bowers,  former DeKalb County District Attorney Bob Wilson and investigator Richard Hyde to look at Atlanta and Dougherty County public school systems.

That state probe led to indictments and now a trial — but one that has proceeded without its most polarizing figure. Due to her terminal illness, the 68-year-old Hall did not stand trial with other APS educators.

Thus far, no testimony at the trial points to Hall directly ordering anyone to cheat. Rather, the testimony shows a school leader on a mission to improve her schools. And there was improvement. Atlanta’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress rose. Atlanta still trailed the national average, but its students were moving ahead at a faster rate than peers in other urban systems.

Foundations came calling with awards for Hall, including National Superintendent of the Year. Delighted with the progress APS was showing, Hall set a higher bar.

And that’s where it all went wrong.

Schools created war rooms where the successes and failures of individual teachers were charted. Scores on state tests rose, but amid growing concerns the increases were not legitimate.

Hall chose to ignore the whistle blowers who came forward with those doubts. Their misgivings were rebuffed, even punished. She concealed a report that confirmed the AJC findings that score jumps at some schools were not only improbable, but near impossible.

Of all the hundreds of comments on the APS cheating scandal over the last few years, I consider something said to me by education activist Alfie Kohn to be the most important:

“The problem here wasn’t just the illegal and immoral behavior of a few individuals, but an absurd system of top-down, heavy-handed, test-based accountability, which is why cheating scandals have been popping up all over the country for as long as we’ve had high-stakes testing. And even if the Hall administration had raised the scores without cheating, Atlanta schoolchildren were still cheated out of a real education because the schools were turned into glorified test-prep centers.”

The trial has just ended its 19th week.

The defense for the 12 former APS educators on trial has rested, and closing arguments are expected to begin March 16.

According to the AJC:

More than a month earlier than expected, defense attorneys for the 12 defendants rested, prosecutors presented rebuttal witnesses, and all the evidence was in. Here’s how that happened: The defense presented far fewer witnesses than the prosecution, and none of the defendants testified.

The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office called 133 people to the stand. They painted the dozen defendants as a selfish gang of teachers and administrators who, in an alleged racketeering scheme, changed answers on standardized tests to inflate scores, defraud the government, cheat students and protect their own careers.

Defense lawyers called a total of 29 witnesses to describe the opposite: hardworking, honest educators just trying to do a job. Veteran defense attorney Jack Martin, who was not involved in the APS trial but has followed it, said it’s understandable the defendants didn’t testify. Sometimes it’s better, he said, to let the jury focus on the prosecution’s evidence, or lack of it, than on the words and demeanor of a client. “You might be absolutely innocent, but the jury expects you to be perfect.”

 

On AJC.com: Beverly Hall dies; criminal case — and her legacy — unresolved

Updates on the Atlanta Public Schools Testing Case

How the case began: AJC’s original investigation that questioned Atlanta’s school test scores

Reader Comments 0

133 comments
jerryeads
jerryeads

Thx for the recall of Jay's piece, M.E. As has been clear, at least to rational people who look at a broader range of data than tests, attempting to judge kids, teachers and schools by the distorted (and low bid) window of poorly made minimum competency tests not only doesn't lead to better learning, it distorts what might have been a useful piece of the puzzle into meaningless drivel AND makes the craft of teaching untenable.

Part of the distortion is that the practice attracts people like Hall to the profession, and people like Hall hire underlings who are willing to carry out any orders. The parallel to historical figures like Hitler and Goering is tempting.

Who's really at fault? Our elected leaders - at all levels - who know little about kids, teaching or learning who are naïve (or stupid) enough to believe - in the face of overwhelming evidence - that mass minimum competency testing could help kids. And yes, I know, helping kids is all too frequently the last thing on their minds. Be reminded we've been doing this for around fifty years. Don't forget it's our fault. WE elected them.

I was one of the middlemen once, running the testing program for the state of Virginia. Little did I know at the time the carnage I left in my wake. I wonder how many Beverly Halls I helped create.

Finally, remember that the APS "scandal" is just the tiniest tip of the iceberg, and the iceberg is still crushing kids all across the country.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@jerryeads


Thanks for sharing the history of test taking in our nation and the fact that it goes back 50 years.  This is why I have always been an advocate for testing only for diagnostic purposes for individual students and not for the purpose of intimidating teachers or schools, who and which will have varied populations of students, making the comparisons in growth all but invalid. 


I believe the major thrust of the rabid test accountability in education, started in the George W. Bush administration, with "No Child Left Behind."  It has been my opinion that one of the reasons for that major thrust was to criticize public education (from a very narrow vantage point of test scores only) in order to move public "government" education to the private market - for profit.


Shameful.

jerryeads
jerryeads

@MaryElizabethSings @jerryeads  There be reason to suspect that motive, M.E. - While I'm actually quite impressed with the care with which the Georgia commission reviews charter applications, that appears to have been a surprise to the legislators who created it. Much of the country exhibits interest in demeaning the public system and excusing the charter and private sectors from any monitoring. An excellent example for this state is the tax credit for donating to private schools.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@jerryeads 


We will never know if the Georgia Commission reviews charter applications with such care because people, such as myself and yourself, keep the underlying political issue before the public's attention, and the Commission knows it.  I am not saying that that knowledge and exposure are the only reasons for the care given to applications of Georgia's charter schools by the Commission, but it cannot hurt. Thank God we live in a democracy which allows freedom of speech. MLK:  "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. . . ."

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

From Jay Bookman's column which included a 2013 AJC article on Beverly Hall: 

"The details and testimony that have since emerged in court have bolstered rather than challenged its conclusions, including the important observation that the blame does not halt with Hall herself, but can and should be traced further up the rungs of power."  "Hall didn’t treat academic progress as an economic development tool too useful to Atlanta’s 'brand' to be questioned, as some in the business community did. Like her APS underlings, Hall merely responded, somewhat rationally, to a system that was designed by others and that demanded results too good to be true too quickly."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


This is altogether true.  I have stated for years that testing should be done only to diagnose correctly students' areas of strength and weakness, much as a physician uses diagnostic tests to better diagnose the illnesses of his/her patients.  Testing results could not be valid in comparing teachers' results or schools' results with one another, because every teacher and every school will have a different population of students.  Moreover, having that kind of fallacious intimidation hanging over teachers and schools, in itself, creates fear and unwise practices.


"Judge not that you not be judged."  RIP, Beverly Hall.

GB101
GB101

The answer to the question in the headline is quite obvious, so I won't comment on that.  But I do have a question.  You mention Gov. Perdue's investigation.  But wasn't there an "investigation" by the Metro Atlanta Chamber that was little more than a cover up?

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

@GB101 there was, just another attempt by the City power players to smooth over what they knew was a scandal, they could care less if kids were learning or not. 

Betsy Ross1776
Betsy Ross1776

As usual, Maureen Downey won't accept facts. She blames standardized testing instead of the real people, like Hall, who are corrupt and liars and thieves.
Many teachers DID NOT cheat! They blew the whistle. They sacrificed their jobs, careers and their income to do the right thing and NOT cheat.
No sympathy. ZERO sympathy for liars, cheaters and thieves.
Let the trials continue and slam the prison doors shut on all of them.

Betsy Ross1776
Betsy Ross1776

There is NO debate about Hall's legacy. She was always a liar, a thief and a greedy, mean tyrant.
She did NOT want to prove poor black children could learn. She used that line only to get money, accolades, fame and power for herself.
She cheated and lied and stole. Thousands suffered because of her wickedness.

If you believe in God, Hall is burning in hell.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Betsy Ross1776 Too much Gone with the Wind- Your children were more than likely not impacted by this.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

@gactzn2 probably not since most all the City Power Brokers kids go to private schools 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

A Question for you legal-beagle types: Why did it take so long for this trial to be scheduled?

Starik
Starik

@Wascatlady Fulton County has about 1,000,000 people and 20 Superior Court Judges.  Indictments are assigned to one of the 20 court divisions.  When this monster of a trial got assigned to Judge Baxter there were three choices: (1) Put all other cases in the division on hold for many months or (2) redistribute the cases to the other divisions or (3) Bring in a Senior Judge and find him temporary infrastructure to try it.  You can't leave people in jail with serious charges for many additional months while the monster is tried.  I doubt the other judges would be willing to take on extra cases.  Possibly no senior judge wanted to volunteer, and pulling a judge in from another circuit would create problems for that circuit. 


Only the Chief Judge wall knows for sure, or court insiders. No court in this State can routinely handle such a case.

bu2
bu2

@Wascatlady 

It was delayed once because of Ms. Hall's illness.  They finally decided to start without her.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@bu2 @Wascatlady I guess I really don't see why it was not tried 3 years ago.  Yes, it was a mammoth undertaking, but it should have been done in a timely manner.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

"But, in the end, Hall created a perception students in Atlanta’s poorest schools were unteachable, that teachers could not move their students to higher and higher levels without cheating."


This appears to be considerably off the mark. Most people are intelligent enough to understand these students generally speaking ARE teachable, but the job of teaching them is (or can be) much more difficult. APS lost focus on its core mission; the system was corrupted by people who weren't committed to educating the kids.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@DawgDadII  You cannot move the students to higher levels without addressing the REAL underlying issues: discipline, attendance, and social promotion. Until you admit that these issues play a big role in failing schools, you are doomed to continue failing.

class80olddog
class80olddog

What was Beverly Hall's worst crime (in my opinion) was the destruction of hundreds of teachers' careers - some were not willing to play her game and were fired, some were whistle-blowers who were fired, and the rest cheated in order to keep their jobs and then lost them anyway (and some were prosecuted).  The children probably would not have been educated anyway.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Of course, the cheating has not stopped.  Every time a student is promoted to a grade level he is not qualified for (social promotion), they are CHEATING in the system.  Now the legislature wants to make a law that says that people who fail a test can STILL get a diploma.  CHEATING is built into the system.  No one will address the real issues, so cheating is necessary or else the graduation rate would plummet at some of these schools.

Falcaints
Falcaints

How about a column that speaks to all teachers, like how many school systems still have furlough days.  The Gov. just gave out big bonuses to his "talented" staff so there apparently is money somewhere.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Falcaints  There is PLENTY of money already in the school systems to eliminate furlough days - just take it away from the administrators and fund the teachers.  But you can't eliminate furlough days if you earmark millions to fight legal battles against communities that want to be annexed into a different system. 

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Falcaints 

As to future teachers' furlough days...I believe that the Governor has just decreed that  the costs of the health insurance for part-time school workers such as bus-drivers and cafeteria workers will be paid by the schools, to come out of the bonus millions he gave school systems that were originally to eliminate furlough days.  Remember?  He allocated this in the budget for this year just before the elections?

MiltonMan
MiltonMan

She won multiple awards from the education community to include the 2009 National Administrator of the Year.  Yet another reason to mistrust public education.

Pistol66
Pistol66

@MiltonMan  It is not an indictment of public education but of one woman's ambition and lack of humility!  Cheating of this sort probably goes on more at the private schools than the public schools(does anyone remember the cheating scandal at the Marist School).  Their stakes are higher as they are businesses that are dependent on the perception of success (real or engineered)! I have spoken with many private school parents who have been greatly disappointed with their children's education and struggles at college! They feel cheated out of their money.   Sadly, Ms. Hall was competing with those same schools who were draining her system of her best students and leaving the rest to the teachers' best efforts. These children can be educated, but it takes hard work, motivation, and a strong board of education.  Ms. Hall was correct in not settling for the public's lower expectations, but her solution was self-serving and wrong!  Go up the interstate and observe Emily Lembeck in Marietta (last year's superintendent of the year in Georgia) if you want to see how hard work, a supportive board, community support, and an emphasis on classroom teachers can get good results! Out of the city parents actually pay tuition to send their children to Marietta schools! 

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Pistol66 @MiltonMan  Most private schools do not HAVE to cheat because they have the magic formula for success: good students and good parents.


You only have to cheat when you know you don't have the ingredients for success.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I think Ms. Hall was after fame and fortune for herself, first and foremost.  She seemed to relish the accolades, not for her students and staff, but for her own benefit.  I never saw her turn the praise from her to them.


Her "leadership," with all its enablers, dealt a severe blow to both the city and its children.  THAT is unforgivable.


Unless her PhD was honorary, and it was not, there is no way she didn't know the results were impossible.


What she did was to spit in the faces of her teachers, to insinuate that they had not been working hard enough.


She was either unbelievably ignorant or unbelievably self-absorbed.  What do you think?

Starik
Starik

@Wascatlady She didn't have a PhD; she had an EdD from Fordham.  I would suppose her misconduct was the same that leads other people in authority to unethical and criminal activity - she thought she would get away with it.  That is the same problem many people in leadership have had and continue to have. She was also unable to recognize that she wasn't as smart as other people kept telling her she was.

popcornular
popcornular

@Starik @Wascatlady  'She was also unable to recognize that she wasn't as smart as other people kept telling her she was.'


You just pinpointed a fundamental flaw in so many educators - the root of so much of the problem.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Starik @Wascatlady You are right, Starik. But the EdD and PhD differ mainly in the dissertation, not in course content.  She still had to have significant statistical coursework, enough to identify outliers (and by this, I mean out and out LIES).  There is no excuse for someone with a doctoral degree in a social science from a reasonably respected institution to be unable to see the glaringly obvious lack of credibility in those score changes.


In addition, I don't know how long she was in the classroom, but if she had more than a few years there, she would also have seen the obvious.


No pass from me.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Beverly Hall made the same ASSumptions that a lot on this blog do - that the teacher alone can solve the problem - student and parent cooperation not needed.  The teachers say How can I teach an empty desk?  BH replies - your student's test scores MUST rise, or you will be fired, and I don't care how you do it.  And the test scores DID rise.  For someone who thought of themselves as "data-driven", she apparently never collected or looked at data on discipline issues, attendance, or social promotion.  How was a teacher in the 8th grade supposed to take a student reading on a first grade level, and get them to pass the 8th grade CRCT by the end of the year?  Especially if that student misses 30 days of class in that year, and the rest of the time refuses to do any work?  BH expected results but could not tell her teachers and principals HOW to fix the REAL problems - she just said " I want results!"  I have had a few bosses like that (they are bosses, not leaders) and they are H*LL!

BravesFan79
BravesFan79

Good for her that she was never convicted and put in jail.   She did nothing beyond what the average person does (especially true in the black community), which was play the system!   The whole idea of turning little getto kids into chemistry and math geniuses was nothing more than liberal fantasy.   She did her job in my eyes.  Played the stupid government and got the extra Fed $ needed to help Atlanta kids.  


The majority of these kids can barely speak english, the majority of their parents smoke dope and cuss infront of them daily, and teach them not to respect authority (teachers... cops... etc).   I think letting these kids slide by and allow them some sort of pride by graduating highschool is the least of our concerns.  


The real concern is the true to life ratio of bad to good in Atlanta today.  The 3 "youth" who killed the 1 Clark Atlanta senior over the Craigslist robbery is a perfect example of the true to life ratio of quality vs worthless members of society.


Starik
Starik

@BravesFan79 Ah, but there are more than two groups, and your ratios are. I think, wrong. I'd say 25% at least are doing fine, and do as well as kids of any other race. 25% will wind up as problems.  At least 50% of young blacks have the capacity and desire to turn out fine if they get a little help from schools, teachers, and other people they meet - including cops, employers, neighbors etc. 


Have you heard of a "play mama?"

Finnsrevenge
Finnsrevenge

That's not the point.  She was hired  to do what she could to fix the mess.   She was not put there to make geniuses out of the normal little children, just to make their educational experience better in the ever changing world.  She may have had an impossible task, but it would have been better to never  have gained an accolade than to  allow the scandal of cheating that will tarnish APS for years to come.  So what does the fact that politicians cheat have to do with children? I think demoting honesty to a scale of relativism is the real problem.  Cheating is cheating.  And It is certainly not relative to what happens in other segments of society.  School is the one place that should be truly isolated from other walks of life.  The poor lady is dead, so we are not interested in defaming her, but rather in bringing about another climate in the education sector.

bu2
bu2

@Finnsrevenge 

And instead, she cheated students out of help they needed by pushing false scores.

mamaj7104
mamaj7104

Beverly Hall may have exacerbated a part of the APS problem, but the main problem was there when she arrived. The problem most definitely was under-performing  parents that expected her to perform some kind of miracle with their under-performing  children, when too many of them don't actively participate in the education of their own children.You think this problem is gone, since Beverly Hall is?--absolutely not!! Many school systems have a culture of cheating, hell, our politicians lie and cheat and steal, and just say "I'm sorry, then it's business as usual. She did not make the mold.You can talk about this woman and call her names until you are blue in the face, but the problem still remains--and will, probably so, for generations to come.

Carl Elias
Carl Elias

APS should have never created the environment for gaming the system by paying Cash Bonuses to Superintendents and other top level Employees based on any criteria.

Civil Service/Public Jobs are not like Investment Banking on Wall St., once the Bonus System was created it was only a matter of time before those that benefited would figure out a way to game the system.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Carl Elias I am not convinced that it was money that motivated them.  A culture of fear did- not money.  APS teachers are highly compensated and 1-2 thousand dollars just does not seem to be the true motivating factor.

Don't Tread
Don't Tread

Was she a driven leader who demanded too much of educators who were not up to the job? Or did she set unrealistic goals and then ignore blatant evidence that her employees were cheating to reach those goals?


Or did she actively participate in covering up the facts and punishing the whistleblowers in an effort to keep it all secret and protect her bonuses?

SteveReynolds
SteveReynolds

Can the taxpayers get their money back from the estate? 

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

@SteveReynolds Not likely, her husband ( if she had one ) will get her State pension and any benefits a spouse would get, he may even get her State life insurance if provided. If she was not married but had kids, they will get whatever is policy to be paid to heirs 

Astropig
Astropig

@QueenCtown @SteveReynolds


A civil suit against who? The defendant would not get her day in court. Typically, vested retirement benefits and pensions are beyond the reach of creditors during a person's lifetime.If anybody ever needed good estate planning,it was Beverly Hall.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

"Hall chose to ignore the whistle blowers who came forward with those doubts. Their misgivings were rebuffed, even punished. She concealed a report that confirmed the AJC findings that score jumps at some schools were not only improbable, but near impossible."

You want a "legacy"?  There ^^^ you go. When it was time to do the right thing, she put her accolades and money ahead of the most vulnerable among us - her students.