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How the Ed. Dept. Could Intervene in Cheating Scandals

A significant part of Education Secretary Arne Duncan's education reform agenda relies on states and school districts having good, reliable data from test scores. So it's no surprise that he and his Department of Education crew are trying to figure out what they can do to stem the damage done by cheating scandals, including the at-times-shocking one that's unfolding in Atlanta.

Duncan has already said he believes the Atlanta cheating scandal is being looked at by the department's inspector general's office, which is its law enforcement arm. That office, which tries to ferret out fraud and waste involving federal funds, has had no comment on the cheating scandals. But back in 2010, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the U.S. attorney's office in Atlanta was investigating whether the district committed fraud by inflating test scores, which earned the district federal education bonus dollars through No Child Left Behind.

While a federal investigation is presumably ongoing, what else can the Education Department do?

Several things, actually. If a state doesn't develop a "robust and effective" response to a cheating scandal, then the department can attach strings to federal education funds, or withhold them altogether.

The department is also looking at requiring states to beef up their testing security measures before receiving federal funds, and to increase spot testing in districts with dramatic improvement on test levels.

And finally, the department is considering bringing in e-testing experts to help determine what other measures states across the country should take as they deploy the next generation of online assessments.

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