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Former Wichita school official is indicted

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, April 2, 2013, at 5:39 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, April 2, 2013, at 5:50 a.m.

A former upper-level administrator for Wichita schools is one of 35 Atlanta, Ga., school officials indicted Friday on charges that they conspired to cheat on federally mandated standardized tests.

According to the indictment, Tamara Cotman, a regional supervisor who oversaw dozens of Atlanta elementary and middle schools, is accused of intimidating witnesses, including a principal and other staff, in an effort to hinder an investigation.

“When principals and teachers could not reach their (test) targets, their performance was criticized, their jobs were threatened and some were terminated,” the indictment says.

The grand jury indictment alleges that former Atlanta superintendent Beverly Hall, several top aides, principals and teachers participated in one of the largest academic cheating scandals in U.S. history, at least in part to secure substantial performance bonuses that were tied to test targets.

“The refusal of (former superintendent) Beverly Hall and her top administrators to accept anything other than satisfying targets created an environment where achieving the desired end result was more important than the students’ education,” the indictment says.

Cotman was put on administrative leave in 2011 after an investigation showed widespread cheating.

Friday’s indictment capped a series of investigations into testing practices that spanned four years. The problems first came to light after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that some scores were statistically improbable.

Cotman moved to Atlanta in 2004 from Wichita, where she served three years as superintendent for elementary schools under former superintendent Winston Brooks.

Before that, Cotman – who grew up in Wichita and graduated from Southeast High School – was a fifth-grade teacher at Cloud Elementary and principal at Park Elementary in Wichita.

Cotman is charged with racketeering, influencing witnesses and making false statements and writings.

One example cited in the 90-page indictment: In the spring of 2008, a parent at one Atlanta elementary school reported to Cotman that her child’s teacher had given students the answers to the annual assessment test.

“Despite Tamara Cotman’s promise that she would investigate the matter,” the parent “never received any further communication regarding her concerns,” the indictment says, and Cotman did not report the complaint to district officials.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SuzanneTobias.

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