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Educator acquitted in Atlanta school tests scandal

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A jury acquitted an educator on Friday in the first trial stemming from a scandal at Atlanta public schools where teachers and principals are accused of inflating test results to boost their bonuses.

Tamara Cotman, a former school system area director, was acquitted of charges she urged principals to tell investigators to "go to hell" during the probe of alleged cheating by educators.

The charges were in connection with a state investigation that found cheating on standardized tests at 44 Atlanta public schools. Thirty-five former school administrators, principals and teachers were charged with fabricating test results to inflate bonuses.

A lawyer for Cotman did not return calls for comment.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, a prosecutor in the case, said he was disappointed with the verdict.

"This is just one part of what we always thought would be a very, very long battle," Howard told reporters.

A 65-count indictment returned last March charged that "test answer sheets were altered, fabricated and falsely certified," by Atlanta educators.

Former Atlanta school superintendent Beverly Hall was among those indicted. Hall was named National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators in 2009, the same year prosecutors contend widespread cheating took place.

Hall received a $78,000 bonus that year for improving the school system's test scores, prosecutors said.

The cheating was prompted primarily by pressure to meet targets in a data-driven environment, according to an investigation conducted by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal's office.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Andrew Hay)

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