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Chris Lopez: Analyzing the EPISD allegations
July 6, 2010

Confused by the back-and-forth between state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh and the administration of the El Paso Independent School District?

You're not alone.

Part of what happens when you have high-profile community members like Shapleigh and EPISD Superintendent Lorenzo GarcĂ­a going at it in public is a muddying of fact and a soiling of reputations.

Written by Chris Lopez: Analyzing the EPISD allegations, The El Paso Times

Confused by the back-and-forth between state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh and the administration of the El Paso Independent School District?

You're not alone.

Part of what happens when you have high-profile community members like Shapleigh and EPISD Superintendent Lorenzo García going at it in public is a muddying of fact and a soiling of reputations.

That's where the local newspaper can step in to help people sift through the various claims with smart analysis and a deeper penetration of the issues. So far on that score, we've fallen short.

Readers have told us that we haven't done a strong enough job analyzing Shapleigh's various claims and haven't provided enough perspective to help them find the truth.

For us, that's good, constructive feedback and it provides motivation to be more analytical and deeper in our reporting when the story calls for it.

To that end, we have requested information from EPISD under the Texas Open Records law to help us figure out whether students were pushed out of individual high schools to make the schools look better on the state's standardized tests. That, essentially, is the heart of Shapleigh's allegations.

The senator himself has provided no proof of this, but instead has used raw data of student enrollment and numbers of students taking the standardized tests to make his claims.

We have reported that the Texas Education Agency has investigated Shapleigh's allegations and found no wrongdoing on the part of EPISD. Maybe

we didn't write that story strong enough or make that headline big enough to help readers see it.

Shapleigh now has requested a federal look at his claims, and we will follow up and report on any federal government action.

Meanwhile, the allegations from Shapleigh continue, and he promises more to come. As a newspaper, we tend to put more credence into allegations made by a state senator than we would another person simply because he is an elected representative of the people and we reason that elected officials would be honest in the issues they pursue.

Our reasoning may be faulty, and the only real way of figuring all this out is for us to analyze the information for ourselves and not rely on the state or federal governments for answers.

That's why we've turned to EPISD with our open-records request and we are currently working with them to determine what part of a student's file is accessible to the public and what is exempt under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Our other path is to find students and parents who will confirm Shapleigh's claims, and so far that has proved elusive.

In short, we can confirm Shapleigh's raw figures but we need more data to prove either that the school district moved some students out to raise test scores or that Shapleigh is being reckless in his final months as a state senator.

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