ATLANTA - As the Atlanta school district grapples with a cheating scandal that has drawn national attention, the interim school superintendent said Thursday that the district will automatically investigate suspicious test scores and require ethics training for all employees.
The changes announced by interim Superintendent Erroll Davis Jr. come two days after state investigators said 178 educators had cheated on standardized tests used to meet federal benchmarks dating back to 2001. Davis reiterated Thursday that none of those educators will work in an Atlanta classroom again.
The educators face possible criminal charges and could lose their teaching licenses for changing answers on students' tests and helping students answer questions. Some may face charges of lying to investigators or tampering with state documents.
"This is just a start," said Davis, who has been on the job less than a week.
The school board also voted Thursday to extend Davis' contract by a year and put off a national search for a permanent leader. Former Superintendent Beverly Hall retired June 30 after 12 years at the urban district.
Board Chairwoman Brenda Muhammad says the district needs stability as it deals with the cheating scandal.
The educators in the probe represent just a fraction of the 6,000 employees in the 50,000-student district.
Davis said the office that receives ethics complaints will now report directly to the school board rather than to the district's human resources division. State investigators found that the ethics office didn't adequately look into complaints and tried to cover up the extent of cheating allegations in the district.
Any classroom where test scores increase by unusual or unreasonable amounts will automatically be investigated by district officials, he said. And he said he will require annual ethics training - likely online - for all 6,000 of the district's employees.
Children affected by the cheating will be given as much tutoring and remedial help as needed, Davis said. Before the state investigation, the district had begun giving extra help last year to 5,400 students identified in a district-based probe of the cheating.
The testing problems first came to light after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that some scores were statistically improbable.
The state launched audits of test results after the newspaper published its analysis of the test scores.
The state investigation was launched last August by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue who was upset over what he called a "woefully inadequate" probe by the district.
Educators told the state investigators they were pressured by administrators to improve test scores.
The investigative report said Hall either knew or should have known that cheating was widespread. Hall's attorney has denied all allegations against her.
Meanwhile, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Thursday called the Atlanta schools cheating scandal "unfortunate," saying it highlights the need for transparency in education. Educators told investigators they were under immense stress to raise student achievement and test scores.
Duncan said schools across the country are facing the same pressures but are making "genuine" progress without cheating.
Parent Cynthia Briscoe Brown, whose son is a rising sophomore in Atlanta, said she is pleased with the district's response to the cheating probe.
"I think it's very appropriate," said Brown, whose son is not at one of the 44 schools where the state found cheating. "(Davis) is clearly moving swiftly to make sure teachers who made bad choices suffer the consequences."