Former Atherton Elementary School Principal James Berry pleaded guilty to falsifying state documents – his students’ state-standardized tests, more specifically – this month and received two years probation and a fine, officials said.
The final year of Berry’s probation is suspended, his attorney, Jackie Patterson, said. He must also pay a $1,000 fine. Under the state’s First Offender Act, Berry will also be able to say he’s never been charged with a felony provided he complies with the terms of his probation, Patterson said. The law allows the court to decide when the act is applicable.
Berry was charged with a felony and could have received up to 10 years in prison, according to a statement from the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office.
Through Patterson, Berry declined comment.
“He is of the opinion that this matter is closed, and he doesn’t want to do any speaking at all,” Patterson said. “He’s ready to move on with his life.”
Berry and an assistant principal at the school, Doretha Alexander, were arrested and charged in June following a state investigation into four Atlanta-area schools suspected of changing scores on the state CRCT test to meet federal school improvement standards. Alexander was also charged with falsifying state documents.
Berry resigned on June 11, and Alexander was fired. But both educators lost their state teaching licenses in September after they were temporarily banned by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. Berry is banned from teaching for two years, and Alexander is banned for one. Both rulings were considered harsh, according to some education officials.
Patterson said he expects Alexander – who he does not represent – to enter a plea shortly.
The state probe, performed by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, looked at the number of times a wrong answer on a math test scorecard was erased and replaced with the right one. The CRCT test is given to students in grades one through eight statewide and designed to measure how well students at each grade level have learned the state curriculum.
The governor’s office looked at a summer retest of the exam’s math section in 2008 – the first year schools were allowed to use their retest scores to determine whether they would make Adequate Yearly Progress, a federal designation under the No Child Left Behind Act.
The state looked at 32 students’ tests and determined someone changed wrong answers on an Atherton student’s test to the right one an average number of 15.19 times, according to the state report. Atlanta’s Deerwood Academy had a 3.44 average number of changes.
No teachers or students were involved in test tampering, deputy superintendent Robert Moseley said.