Thursday, November 01, 2007

More Primary Sources

If you saw the latest issue of The Torch (not the one discussed at the school board candidate forum, but the 10/31 issue), you will find that the center spread is eight separate articles, each focusing on a mayoral candidate. The Torch instantly becomes the most in-depth source of reporting on that race. Sigh. Dang kids.

But I've got other races. I'm a utility blogger. Tonight's offering is a brief interview with school board candidate Michele Kusma. The school board race has been at least as rough and tumble as the other two, if not more so. My first view of the candidates came on Monday, but multiple people who saw both have said they thought Ms. Kusma was notably better on Monday than in the prior event. I can believe that, but she continued to do well for herself afterward.

Michele Kusma and I met up for warm beverages after the School Board Candidate Night on Monday. We started off talking about... me. For many of the folks involved in this election, it seems that I just sort of popped up out of nowhere one day. This is because I just pretty much popped up out of nowhere one day, a process that I described in more detail to Ms. Kusma as we transitioned into a discussion of the campaign, and eventually back into School Board matters. I started off by asking her to answer the question that she had most hoped would get asked but didn't. She first referred to a thick folder of notes she had brought with her. As she said, being the only candidate with a website might make her a little more accessible to folks with questions, but she had certainly received plenty, and had prepped the notes (in part) in anticipation of some of those questions being raised at the forum. She then decided on the hypothetical topic of Special Education/Gifted Education. There is apparently a segment of the population that believes Ms. Kusma is too narrowly focused on gifted education. Her response is that she has been vocal about supporting gifted education because it is an area of expertise for her, which has also led to her being asked to advocate for gifted education. She says that she is not overly focused on one group of kids, she wants to support all kids, and that all kids need support.

I was happy that she picked the topic, as I had only prepared a few questions, and the first one I was planning on asking was on exceptional kids, and which populations in Bexley would most benefit from extra attention. I framed it in terms of Special Education/Learning Difficulty kids, Gifted Kids, and "normal" or the "big middle of" kids. She answered that she was excited that the answer to the question was about to become much clearer due to "value-added" assessment and evaluation. [Value-Added (VA) refers to assessments that are benchmarked against a child's own achievement levels from the previous year, rather than to standards based on "typical" educational development. For example, under current assessment practices, Little Jane's education has been successful if she can read at "a fifth grade level" when she is in the fifth grade. Under VA standards, success depends on what Jane could do in 4th grade. If she was reading at a second grade level in fourth grade, then jumping two grade levels and reading at a 4th grade level in 5th grade would be a success. Likewise, if Jane was reading at a 6th grade level in 4th grade, and still reading at a 6th grade level in 5th grade, her education would be considered unsuccessful, even though she was testing above grade level - bonobo]. As Ms. Kusma pointed out, the data generated from this type of analysis can be used to make much clearer statements about achievement across the distribution of students.

The implications for classroom structure should at this point be obvious, and I asked Ms. Kusma what happens when you are a teacher tasked with teaching subject matter dictated by individual assessment level to a classroom grouped by chronological age? She comfortably discussed a range of methods that have been used here in Bexley and elsewhere, such as all classes sharing a common "math time" during which students are rearranged by math skills, etc.

All in all, she seemed enthusiastic and comfortable discussing the issues, and when I did throw her off a bit with DeRolph and then later by explaining how perceptions of the ways in which Bexley's schools interpret and enforce in-district eligibility made me personally uncomfortable, she responded cautiously but thoughtfully.

It was a pretty short interview, but it was following up two hours in which many of the good questions had already been asked. Next up: City Council candidate Ben Kessler.

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