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A suburban Atlanta elementary school principal has resigned and the assistant principal has been reassigned because they changed answers on fifth-grade standardized tests to improve scores and help the school meet federal achievement standards, officials said Thursday.

An investigation determined Atherton Elementary principal James Berry and assistant principal Doretha Alexander had altered answers on last summer’s state math tests, said DeKalb Schools Chief Deputy Superintendent Robert Moseley. The state said Wednesday that scores at four schools in different districts had been changed.

The higher scores helped the schools make “adequate yearly progress” and avoid penalties under federal No Child Left Behind standards, said Kathleen Mathers, head of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.

An analysis of the answer sheets show up to 40 erasures on some tests, compared with the average of two per student on tests that were not altered, Mathers said. Students would not have been able to complete the tests and change that many answers, she said. State officials said no students are under suspicion.

“We don’t think kids cheated,” Mathers said. “We think kids got cheated.”

Moseley said DeKalb schools superintendent Crawford Lewis was “shocked and disappointed.”

“The superintendent will meet with principals next week to share his expectations, that even though our goal is to lead the state, the way we will get there is good teaching rather than cheating,” Moseley said.

E-mail and telephone messages left Thursday for both Berry, who resigned Wednesday, and Alexander were not immediately returned.

The tests had Burroughs-Molette Elementary in south Georgia one step closer to being off the “needs improvement” list of schools that must offer extra tutoring and allow parents to transfer their children to higher performing schools, department of education officials said.

A complaint has not yet been filed with the Professional Standards Commission — the agency that oversees licensing educators. If teachers or principals are found at fault, they could lose their jobs and their certification with the state.

Along with Atherton and Burroughs-Molette, the schools under review are Atlanta’s Deerwood Academy and Parklane Elementary in Fulton County.

The Atherton Elementary students whose tests were altered will be offered extra tutoring and will not have to retake the exams, state and district education officials said. The state Board of Education will decide next month whether the results should be thrown out.

Jeff Hubbard with the Georgia Association of Educators, which represents more than 40,000 teachers, principals and administrators, said the organization was “deeply concerned” about the possibility that an educator could have changed the tests.

“It’s a horrendous indictment on the process, and the losers are the children,” he said.

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