6th Former El Paso Educator Surrenders to Feds in Test Score Fraud Scheme

In this Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015 photo, a student works in an eight grade algebra class at Holy Spirit School in East Greenbush, N.Y. The Diocese of Albany, New York, announced recently that it will reduce the frequency of the Common Core-aligned tests while sticking with the standards. The decision …
AP Photo/Mike Groll

The sixth former El Paso ISD educator allegedly involved in a massive test score fraud scheme surrendered to federal agents and is being held without bail.

James Anderson, 40, former El Paso Independent School District Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools surrendered to federal officials on Monday morning following his indictment in a scheme to defraud the U.S. Education Department (USED) by artificially inflating state and federal student accountability scores.

United States Attorney Richard L. Durbin, Jr., Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge Douglas E. Lindquist, El Paso Division; and, USED Inspector General Kathleen S. Tighe announced the federal grand jury indictment against Anderson that was unsealed on May 2. It charged him with one count each of conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud; and, making a false statement to a federal investigator.

Federal agents took Anderson into the federal court system’s pretrial services office Monday afternoon, the El Paso Times reported. He faces up to five years in federal prison upon conviction of conspiracy to defraud the federal government, up to 20 years in federal prison upon conviction of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, up to 20 years in federal prison upon conviction of mail fraud, and up to five years in federal prison for making a false statement to a federal agent.

Anderson is being held without bond because of a government motion to keep him detained, according to the El Paso Times. He next appears in court on Thurs., May 5 when bond will be considered, El Paso’s KTSM 9 (NBC) reported.

Defense attorney Robert Perez declined to comment on the government’s motion but told news media outlets he was surprised by the decision since Anderson voluntarily turned himself in to law enforcement and had no criminal history. The five other defendants already bonded out of jail last week.

Anderson’s co-defendants, all longtime former or present El Paso ISD administrators include former Associate Superintendent Damon Murphy, 50; former Austin High School Principal John Tanner, 52; and three former Austin High assistant principals, 51-year-old Mark Phillip Tegmeyer, Diane Thomas, 53; and Nancy Love, 48. Breitbart Texas reported these five surrendered to FBI agents last week.

The indictment alleges the six co-defendants orchestrated a scheme between February 2006 and September 2013 in which they purportedly rigged test results by manipulating school district attendance records and preventing struggling and limited English language speaking students from taking the state’s then 10th grade annual state exam. The test was known at the time as the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). Through their purported actions, El Paso ISD appeared in compliance with the USED accountability requirements.

The altered metric named in the indictment was the Average Yearly Progress (AYP). Breitbart Texas reported AYP measured student English Language Arts/Reading and math testing performance, attendance, and graduation rates. Success meant 95 percent of students tested met minimum annual targets in these areas. The scheme intended to disguise that certain El Paso ISD campuses were failing based on AYP. Schools and districts that did not meet or exceed AYP standards and continued to “need improvement” or fail at the end of five years, could face sanctions, state takeover, closure, reconstitution or even, repurposing into public charter schools.

The defendants also stand accused of altering attendance records through forgery of documents, according to the indictment. It is also alleged that Anderson and others encouraged El Paso ISD employees to lie about the implementation of this scheme while intimidating and threatening those school district employees who did not follow their directions.

Previously, Anderson claimed he tried to report the internal cheating but insisted former Education Commissioner Scott and other Texas Education Agency (TEA) officials hindered his June 2010 requests to investigate grade-level manipulations that may have artificially boosted one campus’ AYP.

The indictment also alleges that from July 2006 to June 2013, Anderson, along with others, created a plan to reduce or eliminate the African–American subgroup at certain schools to make it appear to USED that no African-American subgroup existed on any El Paso Priority school division campus, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of Texas.

In August 2012, Anderson knowingly made a false statement to federal authorities in an attempt to mislead them and impede the government from learning of his role and others’ role in the above mentioned scheme, according to the indictment.

Also in 2012, El Paso ISD’s former superintendent Lorenzo Garcia pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to defraud the TEA and USED by allegedly rigging the results of the annual TAKS standardized test through a number of methods, including who did not take it, to boost results. Two years later, Breitbart Texas reported the TEA took action against 11 El Paso ISD employees over this cheating scheme, allegedly masterminded by Garcia, who earlier in his career served Dallas ISD as deputy superintendent of instructional services and as the district’s 2004 interim superintendent.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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