When a candidate from the Norfolk Public School Board of Education began speaking at a forum Tuesday night, the lights began to go out.
It may have been an accident, but the altered lighting set the mood for the rest of the evening as NPS Education Committee candidates debated hot topics in Norfolk City Council chambers.
All but one of the candidates running for the three open school board seats attended.
Cindy Booth regretted her absence in a letter posted on the forum, explaining that she had a previous engagement that could not be postponed.
The first question for candidates concerned the district’s implementation of goal-based placement. Many of the candidates expressed concerns about the new scoring system, while others defended it.
Candidate Teri Bauer said her main problem with goal-based grading is a lack of accountability to students or parents. Another issue she raised is the number of tests students have to take.
As part of goal-based grading, NPS students can retake tests with the goal of improving their score through feedback. A large part of the assessment process is also based on tests and projects instead of homework. At Norfolk High School, for example, 15% of student grades are based on homework or formative work.
“I think it really sets our kids up for failure,” Bauer said.
Similar to Bauer, Rohleder-Dixon said the amount of testing is stressful for students.
According to Rohleder-Dixon, goal-based grading is also known as standards-based grading and to them, “kids are not standards.”
“They will all be different and they will all achieve different things. I think it’s an unfair way to judge students right now,” said Rohleder-Dixon.
Candidate Leonor Fuhrer said she was able to assess goal-based grading because her own children’s report cards came back this week. She said she learned more about the goal-based grading process from her student’s teachers.
“It’s fairly new to our district and hasn’t had a full chance to show really accurate results in conjunction with the pandemic,” Fuhrer said. “I’d like to see some updated data over the coming year to see how benchmarks and academic results move.”
According to Fuhrer, targeted grading is intended to serve as a motivational tool for student performance. However, she said there are potential downsides to using goal-based grading, such as: B. Goals that are too high or too low for the students.
“I don’t have the feeling that target grades are neither good nor bad in and of themselves,” said Fuhrer. “But like most things, its success really depends on how it’s applied. And we can guide targeted grading with a focus on skill and knowledge development.”
Incumbent Leann Widhalm offered a unique perspective on goal-based assessment. She was part of the district’s strategic planning committee, which included an updated evaluation process as one of its goals.
Widhalm said the targeted assessment process allows students to work on mastering their skills.
“We know exactly what aspired goals the students have mastered and need to work towards, which makes better parent-teacher conferences to show the exact goal that students are working towards and need to master,” Widhalm said. “
Jake Claussen, another incumbent, also said goal-based grading allows students to master their skills.
“I think there are some implementation issues when we look at some of the older classes, particularly in high school,” Claussen said. “But I also believe that if we look at goal-based grading as a foundational system for our students, especially K-6, I think there are some real benefits in allowing each student to become a master on their own terms.”
CRT and gender identification
Other hot topics discussed at the Candidates Forum included critical race theory and the politics of gender identity.
Bauer said CRT divides people and she doesn’t support it or gender identity politics in schools.
“Back to education – let’s stick to what children need to know,” said Bauer.
Fuhrer said CRT is not a mandatory curriculum for public schools, but rather an elective for college and graduate-level courses. NPS does not plan to implement CRT, she said.
But on the subject of gender identity and health education standards, Fuhrer said students have the right to receive accurate information.
“Having worked in the field of child abuse and prevention, I see the importance of discussing healthy relationships and consent,” Fuhrer said. “…Unfortunately, in our world and in our community, there are children who are unsafe and being abused by people who should protect them and will not educate their children about these issues.”
Widhalm said NPS is a locally controlled district that will never “hop on the bandwagon” of adopting a program or standard for any problem.
Instead, she said the district will ensure programs like CRT or health education standards meet the needs of NPS students.
Claussen reiterated the feeling that CRT is a college-level course and would not be implemented at NPS. If it becomes an issue in the district, it should be discussed with parents, teachers and community members, he said.
However, when it comes to gender identity and health education, Claussen said it is important for teachers and students to feel safe in the learning environment.
“And a more inclusive environment is a safer environment,” Claussen said. “Speaking for myself, I think I would learn better in a more inclusive and safe environment. Well what does that mean? To be honest, I don’t think there is a black and white answer.”
According to Claussen, parents, teachers and students need to be involved in discussing gender identity issues.
Rohleder-Dixon criticized Claussen for voting during a school board meeting last year not to send a letter opposing the state’s first draft of health education standards. He was one of two NPS school board candidates who voted against sending the counter-letter.
Rohleder-Dixon said this means he actually supports state health education standards.
Claussen addressed Rohleder-Dixon’s accusation in his closing remarks.
“Voting against sending this letter was actually a vote for our local control,” Claussen said. “We don’t have to do anything about a non-standard, which is what health education standards are. They are not regulated by law, like science or mathematics or other things. So I don’t think we need to respond to something that we totally control with a letter to our state school board.”
The NPS School Board Candidates Forum lasted an hour. Each candidate had two minutes to answer each question.