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Federal Audit Confirms Cheating, Push-Out in El Paso

Last week, the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Education released a final report on its audit of the El Paso Independent School District, and the findings are damning.

For instance, the El Paso district placed all incoming out-of-country students in the 9th grade regardless of their credit status so that the students would not have to take the 10th grade Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS, which was used to determine whether schools were making adequate yearly progress, or AYP, under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Other students were encouraged to drop out of school.

In at least two schools, students were promoted from 9th grade to 11th grade, which meant they never had to take the TAKS test.

The cheating scandal falsely inflated schools' ratings, and resulted in substantial bonuses for the district's superintendent and others in authority positions.

Lorenzo García, who was the superintendent of the 64,000-student district from 2006 until 2011, was sentenced to more than three years in prison last fall.

The report recommends that the Texas Education Agency reconsider the AYP results of several schools in El Paso, and develop new policies and internal controls to ensure that schools are not manipulating test scores or graduation rates.

In a statement, the district's interim superintendent Vernon Butler said that "the district described in the report is not in the same place it was two years ago. We have made immediate and long-lasting changes to ensure the acts described are part of our past."

A new, state-appointed board in El Paso is searching for a permanent replacement for García. That board includes Judy Castleberry, who has been the state's appointed monitor for the district.

The El Paso Times has more on the scandal collected here.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, a judge is hearing challenges to the indictments of educators who were purportedly involved in a cheating scheme in that district, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. An attorney for the plaintiffs have questioned whether the governor's appointment of investigators to research the case was constitutional. Lesli Maxwell wrote about some of the implications of the Atlanta scandal earlier this spring.

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