El Paso Schools Confront Scandal of Students Who ‘Disappeared’ at Test Time

Manny Fernandez, New York Times, October 13, 2012

It sounded at first like a familiar story: school administrators, seeking to meet state and federal standards, fraudulently raised students’ scores on crucial exams.

But in the cheating scandal that has shaken the 64,000-student school district in this border city, administrators manipulated more than numbers. They are accused of keeping low-performing students out of classrooms altogether by improperly holding some back, accelerating others and preventing many from showing up for the tests or enrolling in school at all.

It led to a dramatic moment at the federal courthouse this month, when a former schools superintendent, Lorenzo Garcia, was sentenced to prison for his role in orchestrating the testing scandal. But for students and parents, the case did not end there. A federal investigation continues, with the likelihood of more arrests of administrators who helped Mr. Garcia.

Lorenzo Garcia

Federal prosecutors charged Mr. Garcia, 57, with devising an elaborate program to inflate test scores to improve the performance of struggling schools under the federal No Child Left Behind Act and to allow him to collect annual bonuses for meeting district goals.

The scheme, elements of which were carried out for most of Mr. Garcia’s nearly six-year tenure, centered on a state-mandated test taken by sophomores. Known as the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, it measures performance in reading, mathematics and other subjects. {snip}

Students identified as low-performing were transferred to charter schools, discouraged from enrolling in school or were visited at home by truant officers and told not to go to school on the test day. For some, credits were deleted from transcripts or grades were changed from passing to failing or from failing to passing so they could be reclassified as freshmen or juniors.

Others intentionally held back were allowed to catch up before graduation with “turbo-mesters,” in which students earned a semester’s worth of credit for a few hours of computer work. A former high school principal said in an interview and in court that one student earned two semester credits in three hours on the last day of school. Still other students who transferred to the district from Mexico were automatically put in the ninth grade, even if they had earned credits for the 10th grade, to keep them from taking the test.


The program was known as “the Bowie model,” and Mr. Garcia had boasted of his success in raising test scores, particularly in 2008, when all of the district’s eligible campuses earned a rating of “academically acceptable” or better from the state. But parents and students had another name for what was happening: “los desaparecidos,” or the disappeared.

State education data showed that 381 students were enrolled as freshmen at Bowie in the fall of 2007. The following fall, the sophomore class was 170 students. Dozens of the missing students had “disappeared” through Mr. Garcia’s program, said Eliot Shapleigh, a lawyer and former state senator who began his own investigation into testing misconduct and was credited with bringing the case to light. {snip}

“Desaparecidos is by far the worst education scandal in the country,” Mr. Shapleigh said. “In Atlanta, the students were helped on tests by teachers. The next day, the students were in class. Here, the students were disappeared right out of the classroom.”


In June, Mr. Garcia pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. One charge was connected to the scandal, and the other involved his efforts to secure a $450,000 no-bid contract for a consulting firm run by his former mistress. He was sentenced to three years and six months in federal prison and was ordered to pay $180,000 in restitution to the district.

He was also fined $56,500, the amount of testing-related bonuses he had received.

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  • You know it’s funny, the liberals ALWAYS harped on the fact that Texas schools (under Bush) placed near the bottom in all educational categories, yet at the same time cheered wildly for Mexican immigration into Texas.

    • 5n4k33y35

       I used to hate wingers that much. Nothing seemed more important than beating them.

  • Defiant White

    Florida just announced it will start using race-based objectives in its school system.  The whole rotten thing is coming apart everywhere and there’s nothing either “Mitt” or  Obongo can do to stop it.

    There are going to be some sorely disappointed eggplants out there and they’re going to want to burn it all down.

    Can’t wait to see it unfold on cable TV . . . got my popcorn, shotgun and remote ready to go.

    • Tom_in_Miami

      I told people about the race based objectives in the school system and for the most part nobody believed it could be true.  The schools are in a bind.  On the one hand you have “objectives,” but then on the other you have “reality.”  The educrats are having to admit that blacks score lower than Hispanics, Hispanics lower than whites, and whites slightly lower than Asians.

  • Michael C. Scott

    On 42 months of fed time, Garcia will have to serve 36, of which up to four can be at a halfway house.  He’s camp-eligible so he won’t go to an FCI (a.k.a. “Gladiator School”).  There is no parole in the feds since 1986.

    Wherever a Mexican goes, there is Mexico.

  • Howard W. Campbell

    Once again, with political correctness, the truth shall not set you free.  Until we stop trying to square the circle and declaring that all kids can learn, these kinds of scams will continue. I wonder how many all (or really) white districts in South Dakota have these sorts of problems?

  • Two things I learned from this:

    1) They’re still blaming “No Child Left Behind”.

    2) Linking teacher/administrator pay to student performance is a recipe for malfeasance.

  • ViktorNN

    It’s interesting to me – but not surprising – how little national media attention the testing scandals have received. They’re some of the most outright, upfront examples of corruption in our public institutions with such telling implications about race in this country… and yet it’s as if they’re barely happening. Ask anyone – most people haven’t even heard about them.

  • Strider73

    For those who are interested, the “Bowie model” referenced in the article is named in “honor” of Bowie High School, which is within a mile of the border and is 99.9% Mexican. A brand new campus was built in the mid-1970s; it was a beautiful place until the students trashed it. The Bowie gymnasium was easily the nicest in town at the time; I know because I officiated several basketball games there. I shudder to think what the gym looks like now.

    Further proof that blacks aren’t the only ones dragging our schools down.