committed to making sure that this never, ever, ever happens again.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed called the report ”a dark day” for the city’s schools, which are more than three-fourths poor children.

”There is no doubt that systemic cheating occurred on a widespread basis in the school system,” Reed said in a prepared statement. ”Further, there is no question that a complete failure of leadership in the Atlanta Public School system hurt thousands of children who were promoted to the next grade without meeting basic academic standards.”

The state investigation was launched last year by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue following what he called ”woefully inadequate” internal investigations at the Atlanta and Dougherty County school districts.

Those were spurred on by a state audit earlier in the year that showed high numbers of erasures on standardized tests at 74 schools across the state. The audit looked at the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, which are used to measure whether the state meets federal benchmarks.

Dougherty County was later dropped from the investigation because a Deal spokeswoman said the governor was satisfied with the district’s investigation.

A number of other urban school districts and states have been caught up in cheating scandals in the last several years, including Baltimore and Houston, and Texas, Michigan and Florida.

Problems have mounted, some experts say, as teachers and school administrators — particularly those in low-income districts — bow to the pressure of the federal No Child Left Behind requirements and see cheating as the only way to avoid sanctions. Under the law, failing schools must offer extra tutoring, allow parents to transfer their children to higher-performing schools and fire teachers and administrators who don’t pass muster.

Earlier Tuesday The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, citing officials, reported that investigators had concluded that former Superintendent Beverly Hall either knew or should have known about the cheating. Deal declined to answer questions about Hall and what the report says about the superintendent, who retired last week.

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