End of a Sorry Student Testing Saga for the New York Times and Beverly Hall

Saturday's front-page New York Times story by education writer Michael Winerip on a school testing scandal involving Beverly Hall, former superintendent of Atlanta public schools: "35 Indicted in Test Scandal at Atlanta Schools." Hall is "charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. Prosecutors recommended a $7.5 million bond for her; she could face up to 45 years in prison."

It's a sorry end to a saga that includes politically correct embarrassment for the paper and reporter Shaila Dewan, who defended Hall in two notorious stories from August 2010, trumpeting the false initial vindication of Superintendent Hall, who is black, while hinting at a racial element to criticism that Hall and the Atlanta school district had falsified minority student test scores.

Dewan's August 3, 2010 "Cheating Inquiry in Atlanta Largely Vindicates Schools" opened:

The Atlanta public school system was substantially vindicated Monday when the results of an independent investigation into cheating on standardized tests were released.

Dewan followed up on August 8 to provide a victory lap for Hall: "Cheating Scandal Haunts Atlanta School Superintendent." (In context the headline is more regretful than ominous.)

Early on in Beverly L. Hall's 11-year tenure as superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, she figured that the academic gains she intended to make with the city's mostly poor, black students would face skepticism....Even after an independent investigation recently found that the problem was much less widespread, critics have called for her resignation and attacked the investigation's credibility....Throughout the crisis, Dr. Hall has responded with a cool professionalism rather than the outrage that some critics have demanded. Even as she has vowed to ferret out any dishonest educators and has removed the principals of the 12 schools, she has insisted that pervasive wrongdoing has yet to be proven.

She hyped up a flimsy investigation that initially appeared to clear Hall from wrongdoing, and couldn't believe other media remained skeptical.

But local news organizations seemed unable to digest the investigation findings. WABE, the local NPR affiliate, incorrectly reported -- twice -- that the commission had referred all 58 schools for further investigation. On its Web site, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first trumpeted 'Cheating found at 58 public schools,' then did an about-face and accused the investigators of disregarding irregularities in hundreds of classrooms.

As it turned out, it was Dewan who was unable to "digest" the shallowness of the initial findings.

Winerip, by contrast, followed the facts and exposed Hall in a July 18, 2011 education column, as well as his front-page story on Saturday.