12/20/2011 12:20 pm ET Updated Dec 21, 2011

Cheating Teachers Implicated: 49 Dougherty County, Georgia Educators Accused Of Test Tampering

State investigators have implicated 49 principals and teachers from a Georgia school district in a four-month probe of cheating allegations against educators.

The nearly 300-page report sent to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal Tuesday found that cheating on standardized tests occurred among teachers in Dougherty County schools over the course of several years. The report comes in the aftermath of findings from a two-year investigation released over the summer that found widespread cheating among at least 44 Atlanta schools.

Investigators at the time implicated 178 educators involved in test tampering, including erasing students' incorrect answers on standardized tests and replacing them with correct ones. The findings shook the country and "stunned" U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Both the Dougherty County and Atlanta investigations were triggered by a state erasure analysis of student answer sheets on the state mandated Criterion Referenced Competency Tests, administered to students in the 3rd through 8th grades. The analyses concluded improbable frequencies of erasures and ratios of right-to-wrong answers on the 2009 statewide exam. Dougherty County had 14 schools flagged in the investigation, second to Atlanta.

"There is nothing more important to the future of our state than ensuring that today's students receive a first-class education," Deal said in a statement Tuesday. "The findings out of Dougherty County are alarming as they paint a tragic picture of children passed through with no real or fair assessment of their abilities. To cheat a child out of his or her ability to truly excel in the classroom shames the district and the state."

The Tuesday report tells stories of teachers who indicated correct answers to students while administering exams and a principal who ordered teachers to change answers. A broader culture that threatened teachers with public humiliation for low test scores and rewarded them with fat bonuses for high ones further incentivized cheating, according to an August report by The Huffington Post.

Several educators refused to cooperate in the case, the investigators wrote in the report, noting that one teacher interviewed during the probe commented that her 5th grade students could not read, but did well on the CRCT.

"The disgraceful situation we found in the Dougherty County School System is a tragedy," the investigators wrote.

The cheating probe in Atlanta -- that sparked a flurry of similar investigations among districts across the country -- shifted to Dougherty County in July when investigators found "evidence of cheating in every school" they had visited, state investigator Richard Hyde told The Huffington Post in August.

"Notwithstanding these examples of misconduct, there are skilled, dedicated and well-meaning educators in this school system," investigators wrote in Tuesday's report. "But their work is often overshadowed by an acceptance of wrongdoing and a pattern of incompetence that is a blight on the community that will feel its effects for generations to come. This is the Dougherty County School System."

This particular case in Dougherty County also draws on questions regarding accountability in probes nested in localities. Before the latest governor-mandated investigation, the Dougherty school board had hired former Fulton County School Superintendent James Wilson to inspect the erasure analysis. Wilson didn't find evidence of cheating from the analysis, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

Thursday's report and results now go to the Professional Standards Committee and the Dougherty County district attorney's office for further review and recommendation for action. The PSC is also charged with hearing the cases of and determining sanctions for the implicated Atlanta educators. In the first sanctions imposed in Atlanta's cheating scandal, the commission decided to revoke the teaching licenses of eight teachers and three school administrators. The agency has temporarily halted investigations, however, until the district attorney completes criminal investigations.

Read the full report: Crct Probe 2011