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State Audit: Texas Education Agency unable to find cheating
By: Bill Melugin
EL PASO, Texas
A 50 page audit report from the State Auditor's Office accuses the Texas Education Agency of being unable to spot cheating in school districts on its own, and intstead relies on districts to audit themselves internally.
The report took a look into the TEA's investigation of cheating allegations at the El Paso Independent School District.
The TEA presented its findings two separate times in 2010, and concluded that cheating could not be substantiated. However, two independent investigations confrimed that a widespread cheating scandal did in fact take place.
The report found that the TEA's investigation of EPISD was "significantly deficient in several areas".
Specifically, audit found:
- The TEA didn't investigate all of the cheating allegations.
- The TEA never traveled to El Paso, and didn't interview individuals with knowledge of the cheating schemes.
- The TEA conducted only desk interviews, and relied mainly on self-reported information submitted by EPISD.
- The TEA disregarded sources with specific, credible information that backed up cheating allegations.
- The TEA didn't dedicate enough resources to the investigation, and assigned primary responsibility to one investigator.
"This confirms the fact that TEA has been incompetent in what they've set out to do, not only did they fail to identify EPISD twice, we internally had to do our own investigation to find out our own cheating issues," said Armando Rodriguez, the Canutillo Independent Schoool District Board President. "If they're an agency, then what are they doing?"
Rodriguez feels the TEA can't be trusted to investigate cheating schemes as a result of federal and state accountability standards, and worries that students are at risk with the status quo.
"This was a state system, President Bush created that system here in Texas, and we turned it into a federal system, and even before it was a federal system, there were indicators showing this stuff was going to happen, and so this wasn't anything new, this has been known for decades, but there has been little or no accountability from the Texas education agency, the question is, why?"
EPISD released the following statement to KFOX14 about the results of the audit into the TEA.
"Regardless of the findings of the auditor's office, and TEA's lack of oversight it would not have prevented what occurred in the EPISD, but only brought it to the forefront much earlier," said district spokeswoman Renee De Santos.
EPISD Board of Trustees President Isela Castanon Williams released her own statement as well.
"Now that we know how incompetent TEA has been in its ability to prevent, detect, and investigate wrong-doing--like the kind that occurred in the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) and other school districts in the state--the time has come for the federal government with its Department of Education, Department of Justice, and Congress to launch its own investigation into why TEA has been unable to provide adequate oversight of federal and state accountability standards as well as how it is that the State of Texas has gotten away with gaming the system for many years in exchange for millions of federal dollars tied to federal accountability standards and the No Child Left Behind Act. Congressman Beto O'Rourke needs to act now and call for this critical investigation that has federal wide spread implications for all our students," Williams said.Rodriguez tells KFOX14 he has sent multiple letters to the TEA requested statewide audits into other school districts, but has never gotten a response. He says the cheating problem isn't unique to El Paso, and that it's caused by the way the testing system is set up. Because of that, he worries cheating is taking place all over the state of Texas, and if the agency designed to oversee school districts is being labeled incompetent, he feels action needs to be taken.
"We know that the system is broken, we've been saying that the system is broken, and what we need is a statewide audit to identify these students," said Rodriguez.
KFOX14 reached out to Senator Jose Rodriguez and Congressman Beto O'Rourke, but have not yet received a response.