AUSTIN – Texas Education Agency officials on Friday made their final case for closing North Forest ISD, while district leaders countered that the school system has improved but is being held to an unfair standard.

The TEA’s chief deputy commissioner, Lizzette Reynolds, will rule April 1 on whether to annex the 7,000-student North Forest Independent School District into neighboring Houston ISD.

Chris Tritico, an attorney for North Forest, said he will be surprised if the district wins its appeal because a high-ranking TEA official is making the decision. Reynolds’ boss, Education Commissioner Michael Williams, ordered that North Forest must close at the end of this school year after failing to fix its long history of academic and financial problems.

Tritico said after the four-hour hearing that he would take the case to court if the district loses its TEA appeal.

“If this was tried before a jury, we would have won,” Tritico said.

TEA officials presented evidence that most student test scores in North Forest declined from 2011 to 2012 and that its academic performance lags far behind the state average.

North Forest High School generally fared worse than two nearby high schools in HISD, Kashmere and Wheatley, on the 10th- and 11th-grade state exams.

On the new end-of-course exams taken by ninth-graders last spring, North Forest High scored better or as well as Kashmere and Wheatley in three of five subjects, according to state data posted online. The TEA did not discuss the ninth-grade scores at the hearing.

The North Forest students would not necessarily have to attend those HISD schools. HISD permits students to transfer to campuses with space available, and they can apply to high-performing magnet schools.

North Forest argued that it was being penalized for the scores of a small population of students. In addition, Superintendent Edna Forte said the TEA’s decision to revoke the district’s accreditation hurt teacher recruitment.

The district’s graduation rate for the Class of 2011 rose to 66.4 percent, from 59.1 percent the prior year. That did not meet the TEA’s standard improvement requirement.

Forte said the district missed the benchmark by two students.

“By my standard of fair, no, I don’t think that’s fair,” she testified.

North Forest is seeking the TEA’s approval to partner with a nonprofit management board that would run a mixture of charter schools and traditional district schools.

TEA deputy general counsel Joan Allen, who helped preside over the hearing, asked Forte how the proposed partnership would improve the graduation rate.

The district’s rate already is improving, Forte said, and the charter schools involved have a good track record.