Nightly News   |  March 30, 2013

Dozens indicted in Atlanta cheating scandal

A grand jury indicted the Atlanta Public Schools' ex-superintendent and nearly three dozen other former educators of charges arising from a test cheating scandal. NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez reports.

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>>> it's being called one of the worst public school cheating scandals in memory. for years teachers allegedly altered answers on standardized tests to improve results in atlanta . now dozens of educators have been indicted, including a former superintendent. nbc's gabe gutierrez has more tonight.

>> reporter: it's one of the largest cheating scandals ever in public education . former atlanta superintendent beverly hall and 34 other educators indicted friday on racket earring charges. investigators say they conspired to erase wrong answers on standardized tests , often for money.

>> dr. hall had a contract that was set up to pay her bonuses when she achieved certain results. those results were caused by cheating.

>> reporter: the district seemed to be performing well. earning hall half a million dollars in bonuses. she had been named national superintendent of the year in 2009 , the same year, prosecutors say, widespread cheating took place. hall has repeatedly denied the allegations. first brought to light by reporters from the atlanta journal -constitution and state investigators who persuaded one whistle blower to wear a wire. investigators say some teachers would gather in locked rooms to change answers. but one of the accused, angela williamson, says that never happened at her school. she's stunned, since the school panel cleared her of wrongdoing last year. did you ever help your students cheat?

>> i have a good heart. i always have. and i never, ever participated in any cheateding. i did what was right for my students. and that is to teach them.

>> reporter: at another school, ian collins claimed her daughter fell behind. while her test scores seemed to improve.

>> it's really hard. like i'm 15, and i'm reading on a 5th grade level. and it's not good.

>> it's heartbreaking that we have individuals that would stoop that low in a situation for something as simple as money.

>> reporter: cheateding is not just a problem in georgia, as pressure to do well on standardized tests has grown. in texas an el paso superintendent recently went to prison after removing students from classes to improve test scores . now the new superintendent in atlanta says, the focus is on the students.

>> we are moving forward, and we are executing for the good of the children of this city.

>> reporter: moving forward, after an education scandal that prosecutors say was brought on not by children, but the adults entrusted to teach them. the grand jury was apparently so outraged at the former superintendent, that it recommended a bond of $7.5 million. if convicted, she faces up to 45 years in prison.