After more than five years of controversy and five months of testimony, a prosecutor used seven words on Monday to recap the accusations against the dozen Atlanta educators seated in a courtroom here.
“They cheated,” the prosecutor, John E. Floyd, told the jurors in Fulton County Superior Court. “They lied. And they stole.”Mr. Floyd’s scornful summary came near the start of what will be days of closing arguments centered on whether significant increases in standardized test scores in Atlanta’s public schools came about because of endemic cheating and what prosecutors say was criminal misconduct that included racketeering. The trial, set up by a March 2013 indictment, as well as a state-commissioned report and a series of articles published by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, could lead to decades in prison for the defendants.
The cheating, prosecutors said, cloaked from view a system filled with greedy teachers, conspiring administrators and students who, despite their elevated scores, were academically inadequate.“They changed answers from wrong to right on the C.R.C.T. exam for a whole bunch of folks over the course of a whole bunch of years,” Mr. Rucker said of some of those charged in the episode, which he described as one about “creating a false impression of academic success” that could lead to bonuses.
And with the death this month of Beverly L. Hall, the longtime Atlanta superintendent who was also charged and was to stand trial separately, the proceedings have taken on the burden of being the climax of the scandal that embarrassed this city.Closing arguments are scheduled to resume on Tuesday. Talk of the conduct and leadership of Dr. Hall, who took over Atlanta’s schools in 1999 and was eventually named national superintendent of the year, is likely to appear anew.Lawyers on both sides of the case mentioned Dr. Hall repeatedly on Monday.
In his own argument a few hours earlier, Mr. Rucker had been equally blunt when he said, “Dr. Hall knew.”But he insisted that Dr. Hall’s behavior should not have kept lower-ranking employees from complying with testing standards.“They were cheating, and it’s not right,” Mr. Rucker told the jury. “And I am asking you all to do something about it.”