Atlanta math teacher Shayla Smith allegedly thought students were so “dumb” that they needed her help during testing.
The former 5th-grade teacher at southwest Atlanta’s Dobbs Elementary School denied it, but a tribunal apparently believed that allegation and others and recommended her termination Monday. Smith was among about 180 Atlanta Public Schools educators accused of cheating after a state investigation triggered by reports in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Data on test erasures likely undermined Smith. The testimony of a student who claimed to witness her cheating and of a fellow teacher who said she overheard Smith admit to cheating couldn’t have helped her either. The teacher, Schajuan Jones, taught 4th grade across the hall from Smith, and said she overheared Smith talking in the hallway with a teacher whose students she had overseen during testing.
“The words were, ‘I had to give your kids, or your students, the answers because they’re dumb as hell,’” Jones said.
The tribunal was considering testimony of cheating in 2010. The year before a state analysis found what was described as a practically impossible frequency of changes from wrong to right in tests proctored by Smith.
The student, now in 8th grade, said Smith gave her and others the answers on a math test during summer re-testing in 2010. The girl, whose identity was withheld, told the three-member tribunal that Smith came to her desk and pointed to the correct answers.
Jones, the teacher, acknowledged under cross examination that she didn’t immediately report Smith’s “dumb” comment, saying she feared reprisals from the principal. Jones, who has testified in two other Atlanta test-cheating tribunals, also acknowledged that she and Smith did not get along. Smith later testified that she did not trust Jones. Then, before the APS lawyer could cut her off with an objection, Smith blurted: “She’s a liar.”
The 8th grader also acknowledged during her own cross examination that she told no one about the alleged cheating until last year, when she informed her mother after watching a TV news account of the scandal. The girl also said the cheating occurred over several days, yet Smith said she only gave the summer math test on one day, an assertion largely corroborated by a testing expert from the state. The tribunal deliberated only about an hour before finding Smith guilty of willful neglect and immorality. The panel recommended that the school board fire her.
Nearly 180 Atlanta Public School educators were named in a state investigation into cheating, and APS has tallied the disposition of 164 of them. (Some former employees were not counted because their contracts were not renewed and they were not entitled to a tribunal process. Shayla Smith’s recommendation is yet to be voted upon by the school board.)
Named educators who resigned or retired: 110,
Educators terminated due to tribunal: 17,
Educators reinstated: 16,
Tribunals pending: 21.