US & Canada

Atlanta teachers accused of test cheating go on trial

Students at Emma Hutchinson School in Atlanta leave after the day's classes 13 July 2011 Image copyright AP
Image caption Emma Hutchinson School in Atlanta was one of 44 schools implicated in the cheating scandal

The trial of 12 former Atlanta school officials accused of conspiring to change students' test scores in order to receive bonuses has begun.

During opening statements, prosecutor Fani Willis said children in the school district were the "biggest losers" in the alleged conspiracy.

Prosecutors have reached plea deals with 21 others charged in the case. Some may testify during the trial.

The trial is expected to last for several months.

Not among those on trial is former Atlanta school superintendent Beverly Hall, whose trial was delayed for her cancer treatment.

In 2009, she was named national superintendent of the year by the American Association of School Administrators - the same year much of the alleged cheating is said to have taken place.

Ms Hall was given a $78,000 (£51,000) bonus from the public school system.

The charges were brought last year after an investigation of cheating at dozens of the city's public schools in 2009.

Ms Willis said school officials executed a "cleverly disguised conspiracy" in which teachers and aides erased incorrect answers and in some cases instructed children to change their answers.

Educators are also accused of breaking open sealed copies of multiple-choice tests ahead of time and teaching the answers to their students.

The cheating conspiracy kept the teachers from offering extra academic help to students in need, Ms Willis added.

"The purpose of the conspiracy was this - to illegally inflate test scores and create a false impression of academic success for many students in the Atlanta Public School system," Ms Willis said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper.

"It was done to those students' detriment."

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