Math teacher Damany Lewis became the first teacher to be fired in the Atlanta Public School standardized cheating scandal that embarrassed the state of Georgia and shined a bright light on the pressure educators are placed under by districts to raise test scores, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
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It was four years ago when Parks Middle School Principle Christopher Waller asked Lewis to change test answers from wrong to right and that evolved in a cheating plot that ruined the credibility of the APS.
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Standing before educators selected to decide his fate, Lewis begged them for leniency and to take into consideration that the unethical scheme was conceptualized at the district level, then teachers were ordered to make sure the plan was executed:
We were told failure was not an option,” Lewis said. “Teaching and learning was the primary focus of the teachers. Results were the primary focus of this district and our administration.”
According to the AJC, whose reporters were the first to break the scandal, legal expenses have cost Georgia taxpayers millions over the last months and a 400-plus page investigative report shows systemic breeches within the education system. Over 100 teachers are on administrative leave and the district is paying approximately $1 million per month in the interim.
Special agent for the GBI, Anita Ivy, said that Lewis first used scissors, but after deciding that was “tacky,” he graduated to using a razor blade to remove and copy test booklets so that teachers would know how to instruct students. As other teachers were included in the scheme, Lewis became nervous that some of them “had [a] conscience and bad nerves,” said Ivy.
Parks Middle School received accolades and awards for it’s teaching techniques and improvement in test scores before the scandal broke. Still, Lewis implored the panel to consider his position:
A teacher is always under a lot of pressure. There is always the weight of student performance on that teacher’s shoulder, along with the expectation and watchful eyes of the administration, the board of education, the superintendent and the state,” Lewis said during Wednesday’s hearing. “The people who are being honest and who have exuded the most character are being persecuted the most and being let go first,” he said. “Let us not crucify the teachers and act like there weren’t and aren’t systemic problems that need to be addressed all the way up.”
Lewis can appeal his firing to the state school board.