- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - The mother of a former Atlanta elementary school student testified Tuesday that she was surprised and concerned when her daughter excelled on a standardized test after struggling through the academic year.

Justina Collins, mother of the now 17-year-old girl, was the first witness to take the stand in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial.

Collins said she questioned the principal of Cascade Elementary School about her daughter’s performance after she struggled throughout third grade but passed state exams, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported (https://on-ajc.com/1vsTGPE).

The principal, Alfonso Jessie, said children sometimes do well on tests when they struggle during the school year, Collins told the court.

Collins was unsatisfied with the principal’s answer and said she then tried meeting with APS officials in the district’s central office to outline her concerns. Collins said she saw former Superintendent Beverly Hall as she left a meeting and told her about questions over her daughter’s progress.

“She basically said nothing could be done at this time,” Collins said, adding that Hall told her she should contact the district if she had further questions.

Collins’ daughter testified that she’d raise her hand if she didn’t understand a test question and her third grade teacher would give her the answer. The newspaper reports that the girl’s identity isn’t being disclosed because of a court order.

The teen is now a junior and attends school in Marietta. During her testimony, she recalled how it felt to see that she had passed the state exam despite having the lowest reading score of her third-grade class.

“I was happy, I was like, ‘I guess I finally put my mind into it and did a great job,’” she told the court. Collins said her daughter is making progress but now reads at an eighth-grade level.

Former school board member Anne Harper also testified and outlined a strained and deteriorating relationship between the board and ex-superintendent Beverly Hall. Hall told board members not to visit schools or talk to parents and principals, Harper said.

Hall is battling breast cancer and isn’t on trial with the other 12 defendants. She has long denied any wrongdoing. An initial indictment implicated 35 district staffers in the cheating conspiracy and prosecutors have already agreed to plea deals with 21 other defendants.

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Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, https://www.ajc.com


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