EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Five veteran El Paso school district educators were arrested Wednesday after a federal grand jury indicted them on conspiracy charges in an alleged scheme to rig the district's high-stakes test scores by removing low-performing students from classrooms.
The five named in a six-count federal indictment unsealed Wednesday include a former associate superintendent and a former principal and assistant principals at an El Paso high school. They were all charged with a variety of conspiracy counts, and individual defendants also faces charges of mail fraud and lying to a grand jury.
The 5½-year-old investigation continues, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office in El Paso.
Until Wednesday, only two other former administrators had been charged in the cheating scheme, which sought to falsely boost the school district's accountability scores by a variety of means, including preventing "limited English proficiency" students from taking the state standardized high school test.
Former superintendent Lorenzo Garcia was sentenced in October 2012 to 3½ years in prison, fined $56,500 and ordered to pay $180,000 in restitution for his scheme to prevent hundreds of sophomores from taking the accountability tests. The scheme fooled authorities into believing that academic standards had improved in his West Texas district — resulting in a boost in federal funds and personal bonuses totaling at least $56,000.
Under the scheme, 10th graders who performed poorly on the pre-tests were held back in the ninth grade or promoted to the 11th grade before the state tests were administered. To keep other students from taking the 10th-grade tests, the district held those who recently transferred from Mexico in the ninth grade, told older students to leave and obtain a GED elsewhere and threatened some students with fines for allegedly living outside the El Paso school district in Mexico.
Garcia had one employee photograph students crossing the border so they could be forced out on the grounds that they lived in Mexico, rather than within the school district.
In some cases, when the district needed to improve its graduation rate, it gave students credit for computer-based classes or "turbo-mesters," which were 90-minute sessions in which students earned a full semester worth of credits.
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.
After the scandal came to light in 2011, Texas officials placed the district on probation, named a monitor to oversee it and said the schools showed "utter disregard" for the students' needs.