County Superintendent’s Former Admins Cleared of Wrongdoing in Testing Scandal

UPDATE: County Superintendent Xavier De La Torre released the following statement Wednesday afternoon: “I was gratified to learn today that the school administrators in Socorro Independent School District were cleared of any allegations of impropriety in serving students in the district. I remain steadfast and am not surprised that the report bears out my belief that the administrators are individuals with unquestionable integrity and have always worked to serve students in the best way possible. I still regard them as one of the most cohesive, high-performing teams I’ve had the privilege to work with and wish them continued success. Similarly, I remain committed to the work here in the Santa Clara County Office of Education and moving forward with meeting the needs and providing the high level of service and support to our districts, communities, schools and students.”

School administrators in El Paso, Texas—and by extension Santa Clara County Superintendent Xavier De La Torre—were cleared of any wrongdoing in falsifying test scores as well as changing students’ grade levels to sidestep accountability measures, according to an El Paso Times report.

De La Torre took over the county’s top education post in February 2012, after overseeing the Soccoro Independent School District (SISD) the previous three years. Four of his top administrators while in El Paso were suspended as the investigation, commissioned in March, ran its course. Students coming across the border from Mexico were found to be placed in grade levels outside the federal testing scope, which could then help the school district score higher and gain additional funding.

The audit that led to the investigation, conducted by Houston-based law firm Horton and Thompson, did not place fault on De La Torre, who denied any involvement. A shadow has been cast over Soccoro for some time, as a superintendent at a sister school district in El Paso is currently in prison after a similar cheating scandal was discovered.

With the SISD investigation now complete, all four administrators will be reinstated, the Times reported.

“[W]hile there were concerns about the manner in which students from Mexico were held back or skipped to the 11th or 12th grade level by administrators there was no evidence that the actions were put in place to cheat accountability measures,” the Times reported.

De La Torre has been under fire for much of the year after sparring with county staff, receiving a negative performance review from Board of Education trustees and dismissing an audit of SISD’s improprieties as overblown. In late October, San Jose Inside reported that several trustees on the county board were considering terminating De La Torre’s contract prematurely. De La Torre, whose contract expires in February 2015, declined San Jose Inside’s multiple requests for comment.

Since his negative performance review this past summer, De La Torre’s conduct has improved, according to board trustees. The county hired “executive coach” Tom Delapp in July to help him in dealing with staff.

A call requesting comment on the latest report was not immediately returned by De La Torre’s office. Updates will follow when additional information comes in.

Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.

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