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Under Pressure in Atlanta: School Accountability and Special Education Practices During the Cheating Scandal


by Brittany Aronson, Kristin M. Murphy & Andrew Saultz — 2016

A 2011 report by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) confirmed a widespread cheating scandal among teachers, principals, and administrators in the Atlanta Public School system (APS) from 2009–2011. To date, it is the largest cheating scandal of its kind in the United States. The vast public investigation of this scandal provides an opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding of school accountability practices, particularly as they pertain to the education of students with disabilities. The purpose of this article is to draw from the lessons learned from the APS scandal with particular attention paid to the unintended consequences of high-stakes accountability practices, especially for students with disabilities. First, we examine the policies and practices related to disability referrals and identification practices at the federal level during the 2009–2011 school years. Second, we explore what literature on accountability practices and disabilities suggests about the APS scandal. Finally, we discuss broader implications for policy, practice, and future research related to the education of students with disabilities in high-stakes test driven classrooms.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 14, 2016, p. 1-26
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21552, Date Accessed: 12/12/2017 10:21:02 PM

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About the Author
  • Brittany Aronson
    Miami University
    E-mail Author
    BRITTANY ARONSON earned her doctorate in 2014 in Learning Environments and Educational Studies. She currently serves as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Miami University and teaches undergraduate and graduate coursework in teacher leadership and multicultural education. She recently published “Culturally Relevant Education: A Synthesis Across Content Areas” in Review of Educational Research. Her research interests include critical teacher preparation, social justice education, multicultural education, and educational policy.
  • Kristin Murphy
    University of Massachusetts Boston
    E-mail Author
    KRISTIN M. MURPHY is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at University of Massachusetts Boston. Her research interests include enactment of policy in exclusionary schools including correctional, hospital, and other alternative settings, and professional learning opportunities for urban school leaders and teachers. She recently served as a co-author on “Responsibilities and Instructional Time: Relationships Identified by Special Educators in Self-Contained Classes for Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities,” published in Preventing School Failure.
  • Andrew Saultz
    Miami University
    E-mail Author
    ANDREW SAULTZ is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Miami University. His research focuses on how school accountability impacts the relationships between levels of government, the teacher labor market, and parental satisfaction with schools. He recently served as a co-author on articles including “Parent Trigger Policies, Representation, and The Public Good,” published in Theory and Research in Education, and “Exploring the Supply Side: Factors Related to Charter School Openings in NYC,” published in Journal of School Choice.
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