(Orange, Texas)

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June 15, 2013

Federal audit confirms cheating at El Paso schools

EL PASO, Texas — A federal audit confirms several schools in El Paso cheated on high-stakes accountability tests during the tenure of now-convicted superintendent Lorenzo Garcia.

The Department of Education audit released Friday says the district prevented some students from taking the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests. Under Garcia, district officials encouraged low-performing students to drop out or be held back in the 9th grade so they would not take the TAKS test in the 10th grade. Garcia was hired in 2006 and served as superintendent until his arrest in 2012.

The audit took about 2½ years to complete and says that while most of the cheating took place in Bowie High School — a school with a large number of underprivileged students — there was also wrongdoing at Coronado High School, located in a wealthier part of El Paso.

It also says El Paso ISD and the Texas Education Agency violated Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) by allowing students to graduate without taking the TAKS tests.

TEA said in a letter to the U.S. Department of Education that it required El Paso ISD to follow the academic requirements of that law but it failed to ensure that 10th graders took those tests. TEA did not immediately comment on why it failed to make sure the district followed its requirements.

"It is important to note that work to address the issues raised in this federal audit — and to assure they never happen again — are already taking place at the local and state level," said TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culberson.

Interim El Paso Superintendent Vernon Butler said in a statement Friday 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."

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