Ex-superintendent gets 3.5 years for test scheme

Lorenzo Garcia, former superintendent in El Paso, has been sentenced to sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for fraud for manipulating test scores to collect $56,000 in bonuses and misleading the school board to steer a $450,000 no-bid contract to  his mistress.

Garcia, who was hired in 2006, worked with administrators to pre-test 10th graders and assign low scorers to ninth or 11th grade, so their scores wouldn’t be counted in the critical 10th-grade year. After repeating ninth grade, students were moved to 11th grade. Older students were told to drop out and get a GED.

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.

When Lane protested Garcia’s methods, he was fired and escorted out of the building by police.

High school test scores rose and El Paso’s rating improved from “academically acceptable” in 2005 to “recognized” in 2010. Then someone noticed all those missing 10th graders.