Senator José Rodríguez has asked the U.S. Department of Education to open a statewide investigation of all Texas school districts to determine how many other districts have implemented policies similar to those used at the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) to circumvent the federal accountability system.
Six years ago, Dr. Lorenzo Garcia, the former EPISD superintendent, and his top administrators began gaming the federal accountability system to give the appearance that standardized test scores and student performance were improving at lower performing schools within the district.
This scheme included denying some students credits to advance to the 10th grade, forcing students to drop out or transfer to alternative schools, not allowing some students to enroll, and ultimately submitting false data to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the U.S. Department of Education. Targeted students were generally low performers, in the bottom 20 percent of their class, and/or Limited English Proficiency students.
A recent report by the State Auditor's Office found that the Texas Education Agency failed to investigate the allegations of cheating. The TEA twice cleared EPISD without investigating the allegations. Now, unfortunately, it appears that EPISD was not the only district in the county or the state that was cheating students.
"As illustrated by the findings of internal audits at three other districts in El Paso County (Canutillo, San Elizario, and Socorro ISDs) and recent media reports of similar practices at McAllen ISD and Uvalde ISD, TEA's incapability and/or its leadership's unwillingness to conduct a proper investigation likely resulted in this cheating scheme spreading to other school districts in the county and possibly across the state," Senator Rodríguez wrote in the letter to Secretary Duncan.
In the letter, the Senator makes two requests: "First, given that the June 2013 USDE audit was limited to EPISD, I ask you to open a statewide investigation of all Texas school districts to determine how many other districts have implemented policies similar to those used at EPISD to circumvent the federal accountability system.
"In addition, I ask that you conduct a comprehensive review of TEA's existing policies and procedures. Given the hundreds—possibly thousands—of children who were cheated by the very people that we entrust our schools to, we must closely examine why the TEA and, to a certain extent, the USDE, were unable to properly investigate these allegations in a timely manner and whether it reflects systemic, institutional failure that needs to be addressed."
Senator Rodríguez concludes the letter by stating: "What happened to hundreds of students at EPISD and other school districts in Texas is a tragedy. To ensure that it does not happen again, it is vital that the USDE conduct a comprehensive investigation of Texas school districts and TEA. It's the only way that we can protect our children and the integrity of our educational system."