TEA to establish Office of Complaints, Investigations and School Accountability

TEA to establish Office of Complaints, Investigations and School Accountability
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POSTED: Friday, August 30, 2013 - 10:11am

UPDATED: Friday, August 30, 2013 - 3:02pm

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Friday it will establish an Office of Complaints, Investigations and School Accountability to conduct investigations into school accountability, educator misconduct, and misuse of state and federal funds. The new agency office will be responsible for accepting, screening, and investigating complaints submitted to TEA.

Creation of the Office of Complaints, Investigations and School Accountability is one recommendation from a State Auditor’s Office (SAO) report regarding TEA’s 2010 investigation of the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD). The SAO report, conducted at the request of Commissioner of Education Michael Williams, concluded that TEA failed to perform a thorough and effective investigation of serious cheating allegations in the EPISD three years ago.
 

“The Texas Education Agency appreciates the insights the report provides regarding the overall management oversight and processes concerning school accountability investigations,” said Commissioner Williams. “With the recommendations of this audit, we now have a road map to help strengthen our agency’s work in this critical area.”
 

In July and August 2010, the U.S. Department of Education directed TEA to investigate cheating allegations against EPISD. The allegations made at that time involved cheating in El Paso schools designed to circumvent federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements. The SAO reviewed TEA’s actions surrounding that specific investigation.
 

“Resolution of all EPISD issues has been a priority from my first day as commissioner.” said Commissioner Williams, who took office in September of last year. “Difficult decisions have been made with the goal of restoring community trust in one of our state’s largest school districts.”
 

Commissioner Williams met with State Auditor John Keel and members of the SAO audit team to personally review the report findings, detail TEA’s response, and outline the reforms already put into place by Williams to strengthen the agency’s investigative responsibilities. Beyond creation of the Office of Complaints, Investigations and School

Accountability (which will be formally in place by Sept. 30), TEA is taking (or has already taken) the following action recommended in the SAO report:
 

  • Modify its procedures to accept anonymous complaints concerning falsification or misrepresentation of information used for school accountability, confidentiality and test security, and misappropriation of state or federal funds. (Already Implemented)
     
  • Analyze the nature and volume of complaints received in fall and spring of each year to identify trends and patterns related to noncompliance with student accountability requirements.
     
  • Establish an internal hotline and email address to allow TEA employees to anonymously report concerns about violations of school accountability. (Already Implemented)
     
  • Establish a process to inform the Governor’s Office and members of the Texas Legislature of agency investigations. (Already Implemented)
     

To review the complete SAO report, its recommendations, and TEA’s formal response, visit www.sao.state.tx.us.

Canutillo Independent School District Board of Trustees President Armando Rodriguez issued the following statement in regard to the Texas State Auditor’s Office query into the handling of allegations of testing irregularities in the El Paso Independent School District by Texas Education Agency:

“The Canutillo School Board has been skeptical of the TEA’s ability to properly handle inquiries into testing irregularities and it now seems that our beliefs are true. Texas school districts – and the children we serve – have been negatively impacted by the lack of accountability at the state level, and worse yet, by the complete absence of direction from state officials on how to handle some of the most complex issues affecting our schools.

We hope that federal Commissioner Williams sees the results of this audit as a call to action, and redoubles efforts to identify testing irregularities throughout the state — and not just along the Texas-Mexico border.

We also hope state legislators see the audit results as a sign that their efforts would be better spent seeking federal help in auditing and fixing problems within TEA, instead of drafting legislation that targets El Paso County school trustees and further stigmatizes our region to the rest of Texas.

Texas has had problems with testing irregularities dating back to 2004, as indicated by the results of the audit and news clippings from major newspapers in the state. We urge Commissioner Williams to demand accountability from those parties responsible, and act swiftly in implementing reform to prevent these issues from happening again.”

Below is the response to the results of the state audit of the Texas Education Agency's investigation of the El Paso Independent School District from Isela Castanon Williams, President, Elected EPISD Board of Trustees.

"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."

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