Hall Pass: Your Ticket To Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #94

Welcome to Hall Pass, a newsletter written to keep you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance.

<p>A <a href=https://www.axios.com/2023/06/21/schools-students-reading-math-test-scores-decline>decline</a> in <a href=https://www.npr.org/2023/10/12/1205404298/act-test-scores-college-admissions-30-year-low>student test scores</a> since <a href=https://www.axios.com/2022/09/01/students-covid-19-pandemic-learning-loss>2020</a> has reignited debates over the value of standardized testing.  PHOTO BY BALLOTPEDIA</p>

Welcome to Hall Pass, a newsletter written to keep you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance.

In today’s edition, you’ll find:

  • On the issues:  The debate over standardized testing
  • Newark City Council approves resolution allowing teens 16 and older to vote in school board elections
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey

Reply to this email to share reactions or story ideas!

On the issues: The debate over standardized testing

In this section, we curate reporting, analysis, and commentary on the issues school board members deliberate when they set out to offer the best education possible in their district. Missed an issue? Click here to see the previous education debates we’ve covered.

A decline in student test scores since 2020 has reignited debates over the value of standardized testing.  PHOTO BY BALLOTPEDIA

A decline in student test scores since 2020 has reignited debates over the value of standardized testing. Students in K-12 public schools take a variety of state-administered and national tests, like the SAT or the National Assessment of Educational Progress. These standardized tests are summative, meaning they evaluate students’ knowledge about a subject at the end of a period of instruction and allow for comparisons between examinees in different districts and states.

These tests are just one method educators and policymakers have to evaluate student proficiency. Alternatives include through-year assessments, which test students at multiple points throughout the school year.  

Jessica Grose writes that standardized testing should be improved but not abolished. Grose says standardized testing helps parents, teachers, and administrators understand where their students struggle the most. Grose says administrators need to know which students struggle in schools and on what topics so they can direct resources toward solving learning problems.

Tom Vander Ark writes that many schools already have specific and more useful data on student performance than standardized tests provide. Vander Ark says the move to digital learning allows students to receive instant feedback on their mistakes and receive adaptive questions and quizzes to help them improve on their weaker topics. He says with the availability of modern data, standardized tests just interrupt learning and create unnecessary pressure on students and teachers.

Don’t Ditch Standardized Tests. Fix Them. | Jessica Grose, The New York Times

“But after the major disruptions of 2020-22, I figured that even test-skeptical parents might reconsider the value of getting a straightforward accounting of learning loss that compared the progress of kids across schools and districts — to know whether their children are still playing catch-up post-pandemic. &mldr; Having quality information about how America’s children are learning is critical, particularly since the educational gaps between the haves and the have-nots were exacerbated by the pandemic. &mldr; Without standardized testing, we won’t know where to put the most resources, or what the contours of the problems students face even look like. Getting rid of widespread assessments won’t help the most vulnerable children, it will only leave us without knowledge about how best to support them.”

A decline in student test scores since 2020 has reignited debates over the value of standardized testing.  PHOTO BY BALLOTPEDIA

A Proposal For The End Of Standardized Testing | Tom Vander Ark, Forbes

“Good schools know how every student is doing in every subject every day. They don’t need a week of testing in the spring to tell them what they already know. For 25 years, states have imposed standardized tests on schools as an external check on student progress. &mldr; One problem with state-mandated tests is that they don’t take advantage of everything teachers know about their students. With the shift to digital learning, many students have experienced a big increase in formative feedback from adaptive assessments, embedded quizzes, and online resources like Khan Academy. &mldr; With that much information, you have a pretty good idea of what they know and you don’t need to start from scratch with 50 new questions—but that’s what exactly what standardized tests do.”

In your district: reader replies on top issues facing school districts in 2024

We recently asked readers the following question about managing disagreements between board members:

What are the top issues facing your school district in 2024?

Thank you to all who responded. Today, we’re sharing a handful of those responses. We’ll return next month with another reader question. If you have ideas for a question you’d like to see us ask, reply to this email to let us know!

A school board member from North Carolina wrote:

Competitive salaries and benefits for licensed and classified staff

A school board member from Washington wrote:

Decreasing state revenue, and hiring a new superintendent

A community member from North Carolina wrote:

Parents should be involved with the education of their children and know what their children are being taught while they are in school. We need to return to the fundamentals of teaching reading. writing, and arithmetic.  Homemaking like cooking and sewing should be available. Physical education like basketball, track, tennis, all sports should be available. We also need counselors to help with social issues.  Help our youth on a pathway to help them in the path they choose for their life. 

A school board member from Iowa wrote:

Absenteeism. Loss of state support. Staffing shortages.

A school board member from Illinois wrote:

Students are at least 1+ year(s) behind in education. Math and ELA scores are way too low.

A community member from Georgia wrote:

Redistricting of Cobb County (which is now a majority-minority county) in Georgia maintains a strong conservative hold on the School Board makeup, leadership, and policies. Some issues that concern me most are school board meetings that don’t allow multiple opinions to be heard, firing a teacher over a book one mother found objectionable, and banning library books which is happening in many school districts. I’m strongly opposed to the Georgia voucher system that is draining money from public education for private schools under the guise that the vouchers are for parents whose children have special needs or are attending low-performing schools to move to a private school. There is no real accountability for who gets the voucher or student statistics. We know that parents who can afford private school know how to access the program and are getting the most benefit. Sadly, the legislature wants to increase funding for vouchers. It advances separate and unequal education in the state.  As you well know there are too many issues that affect public education to mention more.

A school board member in California wrote:

Availability of teachers and school staff as minimum wage for fast food workers goes to $20 per hour. 

A school board member from Washington wrote:

Budget issues, thanks to low enrollment

Newark City Council approves resolution allowing teens 16 and older to vote in school board elections

Communities have long debated the role students should play in K-12 school board governance, with some allowing them to serve alongside elected adult members in a non-voting capacity. On Jan. 10, the Newark City Council, in New Jersey voted to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in school board elections. 

In a unanimous decision, the nine council members backed an ordinance lowering the voting age in school board elections from 18 to 16. 

Four seats on the Newark Public Schools Board of Education are up for election on April 16. 

The ordinance states: “The City recognizes that 16 and 17 year-olds are already entrusted with significant responsibilities, such as driving, paying taxes, and working, and demonstrating their ability to handle civic duties and responsibilities, such as making financial contributions to a political campaign, volunteering in campaigns, serving as poll workers, writing letters to officials and attending political rallies, and as such should be eligible to vote in School Board Elections given their direct relationship to 16 and 17 year-olds.”

Turnout was 3.1% in last year’s school board elections, on April 25. Three seats were up for election, and the race had two competing slates—“Move Newark Schools Forward” and “Newark Kids Forward.” All three candidates associated with the “Move Newark School Forward” slate won election. Mayor Ras Baraka, who is affiliated with the Democratic Party, and all nine members of the city council endorsed the “Move Newark School Forward.”

Newark Public Schools is the largest district in New Jersey, with an estimated enrollment in 2022 of around 41,000 students. Board members serve three-year terms.

Lowering the voting age for school board elections has also been a focus for some New Jersey lawmakers—and even the governor. In his State of the State address on Jan. 10, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said, “I am also asking the Legislature to send to my desk a voting rights bill that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local school board elections.”

Newark is not the first municipality to lower the voting age in local elections. In 2013, Takoma Park, Maryland, became the first town to grant 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in city elections. The change did not affect school board elections, which are county-run. A handful of other municipalities have also lowered the voting age for some elections. 

Two cities in California, Berkeley and Oakland, passed measures allowing students to vote in school board elections. Berkeley voters approved the idea 70%-30% in 2016. Oakland approved a similar voting age measure 68% to 32% in 2020. Owing to logistical and privacy concerns, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters has yet to implement either measure. However, in June 2023, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors said the registrar needed to carry out both measures in time for the November 2024 elections. 

Although students under 18 in most states can’t vote for the board members who oversee their schools, they sometimes play an advisory role on school boards.     

There is no national database of the prevalence of student school board members, making it difficult to give exact numbers. Additionally, the laws governing student board members vary by state. According to a 2021 National School Boards Association (NSBA) report, 67 (14%) of the country’s 495 largest districts have a student board member. In 2020, the NSBA surveyed 49 state school board associations and found that 14 states reported they didn’t have student board members—Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. On the other hand, 31 states said school boards had at least the option to add a student member. 

Maryland is one of those 31 states, but in eight districts, student representatives can actually cast binding votes on at least some motions. The student representative on the Anne Arundel County Public Schools Board of Education is the only one in the country with full, unrestricted voting rights. 

In 2022, the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, weighed in on the role of student board members in a case that touched on school closures during the pandemic. In 2020, the Howard County Board of Education held several votes to resume in-person instruction, all of which failed. In each case, the vote was 4-4, with the student member voting against reopening schools. Two parents of students in the district sued the Board, alleging the Maryland Constitution does not permit people under 18 to vote or hold public office.

The Court of Appeals ruled that allowing student board members to vote did not violate the Maryland Constitution.

Click here to read our previous coverage of that case. 

In California, the law requires that districts with a high school add a student board member if enough students petition for one (students must collect signatures from 500 of their peers or 10% of the student body). According to the California School Boards Association, in 2021, “270

school districts — 64 percent of those eligible— have one or more student board members.” 

Student board members in California can register preferential but not binding votes.

In October 2023, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed AB 275, allowing districts to pay their student board members. The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education voted in December to pay its two student representatives $1,736 a month. 

AB 275 took effect on Jan. 1. 

Extracurricular: education news and numbers from around the web

This section contains links to recent education-related articles from around the internet. If you know of a story we should be reading, reply to this email to share it with us! 

Numbers of the week 

Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district.

Today, we’re looking at survey responses from Kelley Arnold and Kate Lemaster, two of the four candidates who ran for two at-large seats on the Hilliard City Schools Board of Education, in Ohio, on Nov. 7, 2023. Arnold placed second, winning 28.1% of the vote and a seat on the board, while Lemaster placed third with 23.4%. Incumbent Brian Perry was re-elected with 31.1% of the vote, while incumbent Nadia Long placed fourth with 17.5%. Neither Perry nor Long completed the survey. 

Hilliard City Schools is the ninth-largest district in Ohio, with an estimated enrollment of more than 16,500 students. 

Here’s how Arnold answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?”

“The creation of public policy has always been a source of interest and study for me, especially centered around education. This is an area that I have long pursued in service to our local PTO groups, and now within our Area Commission, in understanding how policies relate and inform our state and local codes. It is important to study the intersection of federal, state, and local inputs that form the foundational work of school boards. Crafting effective and clear policy is key to ensuring our schools can produce the best outcome for our students. Policy must be tight enough to provide rules and regulations for structure, but loose enough to ensure goals and vision can be met. It is a fine balance that is essential for school board members to understand. Our policy must serve the best interests of all students.”

Click here to read the rest of Arnold’s responses. 

Here’s how Lemaster answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?”

“Parental rights, bullying and safety of our children, more focus on teacher support and resources, fiscal responsibility.”

Click here to read the rest of Lemaster’s responses. 

If you’re a school board candidate or incumbent, click here to take the survey. If you’re not running for school board, but there is an election in your community this year, share the link with the candidates and urge them to take the survey!

In the 2022 election cycle, 6,087 candidates completed the survey. 
The survey contains over 30 questions, and you can choose the ones you feel will best represent your views to voters. If you complete the survey, a box with your answers will display on your Ballotpedia profile. Your responses will also appear in our sample ballot.

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