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Former Atlanta school official pleads guilty in test-cheating case

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A former top public school administrator in Atlanta has pleaded guilty in one of the nation's largest test-cheating scandals and has agreed to testify that the school system's award-winning ex-superintendent knew of the cheating.

Millicent Few, who served as human resources director for Atlanta Public Schools, is the highest-ranking educator so far to acknowledge wrongdoing in the case. She pleaded guilty on Monday to a misdemeanor charge of malfeasance in office, the Fulton County District Attorney's office said in a statement.

She will testify that former Superintendent Beverly Hall ordered the destruction of investigative documents that concluded the cheating likely occurred, according to prosecutors. Hall, who pleaded not guilty, is scheduled to stand trial in May.

Few and Hall were among 35 educators indicted in 2012 on allegations that they altered and fabricated standardized test results to boost their bonuses. The charges were in connection to a state investigation that found cheating on standardized tests at 44 Atlanta public schools.

Nineteen defendants have pleaded guilty. Few, who was a member of Hall's executive cabinet, is the prosecution's "most valuable witness" against Hall, the district attorney's office said.

An attorney for Hall, Dwight Thomas, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on Tuesday. Another Hall attorney, Richard Deane, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper that "this does not change Dr. Hall's resolve to continue to fight the charges against her. She is presumed innocent and continues to look forward to her day in court."

Hall was named National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators in 2009, the same year prosecutors contend the widespread cheating took place. She received a $78,000 bonus that year for improving test scores, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Few's agreement to testify would help by "providing key information regarding the operation of this conspiracy to rob our children of their basic right to a quality education."

Under the plea agreement, Few also will serve 12 months of probation, perform 250 hours of community service and issue an apology, prosecutors said. She will pay $800 in restitution to the Atlanta school system.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Amanda Kwan)

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