ATLANTA — U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday he has been in contact with the department's independent investigative arm about test cheating scandals in schools, including a widespread one in Atlanta.
Duncan said he believes the office is "looking at them" but stopped short of saying whether an investigation was under way. His office referred further questions to the Office of Inspector General, which declined to comment.
"We've been in conversation with the inspector general about these cheating scandals," Duncan said in a statement.
The federal Education Department also works with states where cheating has occurred to ensure officials address the issues. If the response is not considered adequate, the department can withhold funding or put conditions on the money, though the move is rare.
School officials in Washington, D.C., have said the federal department is investigating cheating allegations in the city's school district. Atlanta's test cheating scandal is the nation's largest, with 178 educators named in a state investigation that revealed widespread improprieties on standardized tests as far back as 2001.
"Atlanta Public Schools will cooperate with any federal investigation, just as it has in the past with the state investigation into testing allegations," district spokesman Keith Bromery said.
State investigators revealed July 5 that educators at nearly half the district's 100 schools had changed answers on tests or given answers to students. The tests are used to measure whether districts are meeting federal benchmarks under the No Child Left Behind law, and schools can receive thousands of dollars a year for improved scores.
The state Department of Education is investigating whether the 44 Atlanta schools in the report will have to return any federal money they received since 2001.
In Washington, D.C., test results for three schools have been tossed out over proven cases of cheating.
The city's inspector general began investigating after USA Today reported in March that more than 100 D.C. schools had unusually high rates of erasures on exams between 2008 and 2010. The Washington Post reported earlier this month that federal investigators had joined that probe.
In Atlanta, the testing problems first came to light after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that some scores were statistically improbable. The state released audits of test results after the newspaper published its analysis.