More than 150 teachers and administrators from 44 public schools across Atlanta were caught changing answers on standardized tests used to judge student performance and rank schools, according to a state report.
"Many of those cases could lead to criminal prosecutions," said Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.
Eighty-two of the teachers flat-out confessed. The 800-page report said the cheating has been going on for nearly a decade. It first came to light when the state noticed an alarming number of erasure marks on the answer sheets.
Teachers and principals were erasing the wrong answers and filling in the right ones, the report said. At one school, the faculty even held weekend pizza parties to correct answers before turning them in. Over the course of a single year, scores at the school jumped 45 percent.
"We were told to get these scores by any means necessary," said Sidnye Fells, a fourth grade teacher. "We were told our jobs were on the line."
Fells told ABC News that teachers who refused to cheat were punished and pushed out. She resigned voluntarily in 2008 partly due to the pressure to cheat. The school district said it is now firing all teachers and administrators implicated in the report.
"This angers us all. It is hard for us to quantify that anger, express that anger," said Interim Superintendent Erroll Davis. "These people will not be put in front of children again."
The former superintendent, Beverly Hall, is accused of encouraging the cheating. She received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses tied to improved test scores, improvements that now appear to be bogus. For her supposed achievements, she was named National Superintendent of Year in 2009.
"It is an embarrassment to all teachers, all administrators," said Atlanta public school parent David Garr.
His daughter, Rebecca, is attending the University of Georgia in the fall and the explosive revelations have given her second thoughts about her academic record. She is a product of schools named in the report.
"It just really makes me think, you know: Are my scores genuine?" she said.
Many in the community are pointing the finger at No Child Left Behind, the federal policy that made test scores king. The program has forced the closure of schools with low scores and generally rewards the schools with high ones.
School starts again in a month and the Atlanta public schools have plenty of hiring to do before classes resume.