published Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Georgia teachers would lose pay for test cheating

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    Students at Emma Hutchinson School in Atlanta leave after the day's classes in this file photo. Hutchinson has been identified as one of 44 schools involved in a test cheating scandal. Investigators said nearly half the city’s schools allowed cheating to go unchecked for as long as a decade, beginning in 2001. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

ATLANTA — Teachers who cheat on standardized tests in Georgia would forfeit any bonuses they earn for student scores under a bill approved Tuesday by House lawmakers.

Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain, said his legislation was inspired by a cheating scandal in the Atlanta Public Schools and seeks to make sure that teachers do not prosper from breaking the law. His bill passed by a vote of 140-2 and now heads to the state Senate.

Under the current law, teachers can receive bonuses or incentive pay based on the standardized test scores of their students.

"There's no mechanism in place presently that will return those taxpayer dollars back, and that was the motivation, to not reward those who have cheated," Mitchell said.

A state investigation in July revealed widespread cheating by educators in nearly half of the Atlanta's 100 schools dating to 2001. In all, nearly 180 teachers and principals were accused of giving answers to students or changing responses once the tests had been completed.

The district has agreed to repay more than $363,000 in federal money won for inflated scores, but the educators who received part of that as bonus money have not been required to return it. Former Superintendent Beverly Hall received thousands in bonus money as part of her contract but so far has not commented on demands from lawmakers and others that her bonuses be returned.

Rep. Pam Stephenson, D-Atlanta, was one of two lawmakers to vote against the measure. She said teachers accused of cheating should be criminally prosecuted and forced to repay their bonuses if convicted.

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