Gaming the System

The No Child Left Behind Act seems has been plagued by criticism and unintended consequences, but the law’s most egregious effects recently came to light in El Paso, Texas. The ex-superintendent of the El Paso school district has just been sentenced to three and a half years in federal prison for his role in test score-fixing.

The cheating scandal that has unfolded in El Paso this year revolves around the manipulation of test scores to meet government standards, but it gets worse. The ex-superintendent, Lorenzo Garcia, has been accused of running a scheme to hold low-performing students back a grade,  prevent them from taking tests or keep them out of school altogether. Through this scheme, Garcia falsely inflated test scores so he could meet annual goals and collect his incentive bonuses.

While the case is still being investigated, it’s become clear that the entire administration took advantage of these low-income students and intimidated many of them into dropping out. You can read all the details over at the New York Times, but the point of the story is the ease with which these officials exploited the law. By making student test scores the centerpiece of the No Child Left Behind law, ignoring other factors like dropout rate, legislators set themselves up for this kind of manipulation.