In the verdict of what is being called one of the biggest cheating scandals of its kind in the United States, 11 of the12 former Atlanta Public Schools educators were convicted of racketeering charges on Wednesday.
They will remain in Fulton County Jail until their sentencing later this month and could face up to 20 years in prison.
The convicted include now former teachers, testing coordinators, one principal and other administrators who were accused of inflating standardized test scores to show gains in student achievement. They were allegedly under duress to meet federal standards in order to receive extra funding or keep their jobs in the Atlanta Public Schools district.
The case went on for more than two years and is being called one of the biggest and most complex scandals in American education system.
"This has been a long, long, long journey," Judge Jerry Baxter said before reading the verdict, according to USA Today. "I know everyone here probably has emotions they can't describe. I know I do. But I want to tell you — I've been down here 42 years ... and I've never seen a jury that was more diligent.”
It all began in 2009 when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper questioned sudden, inexplicable spikes in test scores of some students, leading to a state investigation of results that found cheating in 44 of the 56 Atlanta public schools examined. Another inquiry in 2011 found nearly 180 educators involved in the conspiracy.
"This is a huge story and absolutely the biggest development in American education law since forever," SF Gate quoted University of Georgia law professor Ron Carlson. "It has to send a message to educators here and broadly across the nation. Playing with student test scores is very, very dangerous business."
After the verdicts were read, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed issued the following statement:
“The (Atlanta Public Schools) cheating scandal marked one of the darkest periods in the life of our city. I am hopeful that with the jury's verdict today, we can finally close this chapter and move forward with the education and development of our young people. I want to thank Judge Baxter and the Court for their service.”