Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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September 2, 2013

Auditor: State vulnerable to school cheating

Corsicana — EL PASO — The Texas Education Agency said it would create a new investigative division after a state audit released Friday highlighted serious flaws with how the agency monitors its more than 1,000 school districts.

The State Auditor's Office conducted an audit that confirmed TEA didn't perform a thorough investigation of cheating allegations in the El Paso Independent School District. The audit also said the state has a flawed system because education officials depend on school districts to police themselves.

An El Paso Times investigation revealed that district administrators were holding students back, promoting them or coercing them into leaving school to improve scores on standardized tests. That gave the appearance of improving academic performance, qualifying the district for more federal funds.

TEA Commissioner Michael Williams blamed his predecessor for failing to investigate allegations of cheating in the state's ninth-largest school district. He said Friday that the leader of a new investigative unit, which was one of the audit's recommendations, must have a strong background.

"The Texas Education Agency must work within its existing resources. However, I am committed to assuring this new office has the capability of carrying out its functions. That starts with hiring someone to lead this office who has some type of investigative or prosecutorial background," Williams, himself a former prosecutor, told The Associated Press in an email.

According to the audit, TEA neglected to investigate the cheating allegations, did not travel to El Paso to interview those who knew about the cheating scheme and instead limited itself to a desk review that relied on information submitted by the district.

The contents of the audit were first reported by El Paso Times on Friday.

TEA placed the El Paso school district on probation in August 2012 after the newspaper exposed the cheating scandal. Several officials resigned or were fired, and ex-Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia — who received at least $56,000 in bonuses as a result of the improved test scores — is serving 3 years in prison for fraud.

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