Marlin ISD is a small, rural school district in central Texas. It sits about 30 miles southeast of Waco and about 900 kids attend its schools. And Marlin is struggling. Under the Texas Education Agency’s accountability ratings, the district has needed improvement every year since 2011.
The STAAR exam is one of the metrics used to judge districts around the state. Its online portion was riddled with problems: tests lost, connectivity issues and the like. The problems were so bad that some claimed the test was not just unfair, but illegal. In late September, Marlin ISD joined a lawsuit arguing that the scores should not be valid.
Michael Seabolt, superintendent of Marlin ISD, says the tests got attention a few years ago after Texas passed a law requiring a percentage of children to be able to finish standardized tests in a reasonable amount of time.
“That came to parents’ concerns,” he says. “Why do we have third graders taking tests that last four hours? TEA ignored it.”
Seabolt says these tests have become the driving force in school districts – they have become a measure for accountability ratings, how money is spent for student interventions, whether schools will be open or closed, and an evaluation of teacher performance.
“It really has become high-stakes testing,” Seabolt says. “It’s become the heart and soul of public education. Children are secondary – we worship the STAAR exam, or whatever the exam’s name is at the time of day.”
The TEA monitored Marlin ISD for five years, sending state employees to guide the school board and administration. Seabolt says in 2014 the TEA monitor told the school board the district was on track to improve – even though it wasn’t.
“To me, there was a great fraud perpetrated upon the children of Marlin,” Seabolt says. “Had adults actually done their job properly – had the people the TEA sent been competent to do their job and to properly advise the board – children wouldn’t have lost five years of education in Marlin.”
Now Marlin ISD is facing consequences for not meeting state standards. The district isn’t fighting closure because of the tests, but the TEA is appointing a board of managers and naming a new superintendent.
“I don’t know that there’s any stopping TEA at this point,” Seabolt says.
He says his goal is to tell the district’s story. According to Seabolt, there’s one other district in the same boat as Marlin ISD and more than 70 districts that will face the same situation within a couple years.
“I know that the children of Marlin did not get the improvements in education that could have been done, that could have been achieved, had competent advice been given to the board, been given to the administration,” Seabolt says. “What I really, really don’t want to happen is for this to happen to other school districts in believing that there’s some solution at the state level.”
Post by Sunny Sone.