Texas test scandal ex-school chief faces 3.5 years

EL PASO, Texas (AP) - October 5, 2012

Lorenzo Garcia pleaded guilty in federal court in June to two counts of fraud and faces up to 3½ years in prison.

Garcia admitted to devising a scheme to keep hundreds of low-performing sophomores from taking the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test. Some students were held back in the ninth grade while others were told to drop out before the 10th grades accountability tests.

The district thus gave the appearance of improving academic performance, meaning it was able to qualify for more federal funds. Garcia personally received at least $56,000 in bonuses.

Court documents indicate at least six other people helped Garcia organize the scheme. An FBI investigation continues.

Garcia, who was hired in 2006, implemented a plan with several other administrators that allowed for pre-testing of 10th-graders to identify those who were likely to fail the standardized tests. He had one employee photograph students crossing the border so they could be forced out on the grounds that they were living in Mexico and not within the school district.

In the short term, the strategy worked. Test scores improved in most high schools and the district's overall rating improved from "academically acceptable" in 2005 to "recognized" in 2010 - the second-highest rating possible.

The Texas Education Agency cleared Garcia in 2010 of allegations brought by then-state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh. But in late 2011, the El Paso Times filed a Freedom of Information Act request for correspondence between the federal Education Department and the school district. When the attorney general ruled that the records must be released, the district acknowledged the scandal.

State officials have placed the district on probation, named a monitor to oversee it and said the schools had shown "utter disregard" for the students' needs.

Other large districts have been ensnared in scandals to raise test scores, most recently in Atlanta, where educators gave answers to students or changed answers after tests were completed. But none has been so brazen as to cast off low-scoring students.

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