WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Monday blamed a graduation scandal in D.C. public schools on pressure from the department she runs to meet certain goals, and fear among educators of not attaining them.

In a speech at a meeting in Washington, D.C., of state school chiefs from across the country, she also accused them of failing to use enough imagination in implementing the K-12 federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, and said she was delivering a dose of “tough love.” She said:

“ESSA was enacted partially in response to the widespread calls from state school chiefs – including many in this room – to give you the flexibility and opportunity to address your state’s unique challenges. Well, this law gives you that chance. The trouble is … I don’t see much evidence that you’ve yet seized it.”

Without mentioning specifics, DeVos blamed the D.C. graduation scandal, where one in three high school seniors were awarded diplomas last year even though they did not meet the requirements, on the Obama administration for dictating education policy. In her speech to the Council of Chief State School Officers, she said: “We also should be able to clearly gauge the progress of all our nation’s students. That, too, hasn’t been a simple task over the years. Previous efforts focused on a goal – such as higher graduation rates – and if you didn’t meet it, you’d face the ire of ‘Big Ed.’

“While that goal might have been laudable, we’ve seen what happens. Just look at the ongoing scandal right here in our nation’s capital, where school administrators fudged the rules and graduated kids who otherwise wouldn’t have been eligible – all in response to top-down pressure.”.