Texas test scandal ex-school chief gets 3.5 years

Associated Press Modified: October 5, 2012 at 6:31 pm •  Published: October 5, 2012
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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.

"One girl got two semesters in three hours, in the last day of school, while her teacher was collecting books," said former principal Stephen Lane, one of five people allowed to testify before Briones sentenced Garcia.

The whole idea, said former state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, was to make students "disappear" before they were tested.

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.

Former students, their relatives and teachers affected by the scandal packed the courtroom for the sentencing.

Lane, the former principal of Jefferson High School, said Garcia came after him "with a vengeance" when he resisted the scheme. He recalled the moment after Garcia fired him and had police escort him from his office. The then-superintendent told Lane to have a great weekend and say hello to his wife.

"I can't think of anyone you helped other that a few misguided mistresses, your cabinet and yourself," Lane said. He added later, "I could stand today here and tell you to have a great weekend and say hello to whatever female is with you, but that would be childish."

Jeanette Valenzuela, a 20-year-old former Bowie High School student, transferred from neighboring Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, with grades she thought would put her in 10th or 11th grade. But instead, she was placed in the 9th grade.

"They said it was because I had no English. But now I see what happened with my grades, why I was flunked," she said. Valenzuela dropped out and became pregnant three months later. Now she works in a clothing store in downtown El Paso.

"I want to go back to school, so I can provide for myself and my child," she said.

David Alvarado, who graduated from Bowie, said he was placed in ninth grade when he transferred from Ciudad Juarez.

"It was all repetition from what I already knew," he said. He thought it would be better the next year, when he was almost immediately promoted from 10th to 11th grade.

"My biggest surprise came as I was preparing to graduate," he said. "A friend of mine showed me the yearbook. It said I was a junior." He graduated anyway.