Denny Issue over Opting Out

Sometimes you cannot believe what you read.  Indeed that was my reaction to both Principal Clark's explanation of his not allowing any student who opted out of the SBAC to go to the school carnival last Friday.  Below is the explanation I received from SPS Communications, along with an e-mail that Director McLaren sent to him and my reply.

Read my reply carefully because you will see why this  - is - wrong.  (bold mine)

The 2015 My Best Performance Carnival at Denny International Middle School

In addition to many special activities throughout the year, for the past ten years, Denny has hosted a carnival at the end of the state testing period for those scholars who have given their best performance. The scholars’ effort is tracked on a form called the “My Best Performance Rubric,” a copy of which is located in their student planners. The rubric includes categories such as:

·        positive attitude
·        time management
·        reading instructions carefully
·        making an attempt on every task and persevering
·        resourcefulness
·        using resources and tools
·        written presentation

After each testing session, scholars fill out their assessment of how they performed in all these areas.
The rubric is then turned into their teacher for review. At the end of the testing period those rubrics are submitted to administration that accumulates the results to establish the eligibility list for the carnival.

For this activity, due to the way in which eligibility is earned through self-reflection and teacher review every day of testing, scholars who did not give their best performance and those who opted not to participate for non-medical reasons were not eligible.

With every incentive that we have at Denny, based on our systems, scholars have the opportunity to practice agency and appeal in order to participate. This year all of the scholars who opted out for non-medical reasons and appealed were granted entry into the carnival.

We had a record high number of scholars participating this year at the carnival. Our school community worked very hard throughout the entire testing period. The My Best Performance Carnival was a great success and enjoyed thoroughly by all.

Subject: RE: Opted out students and Denny
Date: Tue, 2 Jun 2015 19:34:01 +0000

Thanks so much for this clarification, Stacy. 

I attended the multi-cultural potluck/welcome event for new families at Denny last Thursday, and can bear witness to the fact that Mr. Clark and his staff have created a vibrant sense of belonging, community, and mutual respect at Denny.  This is the foundation on which the academic success of Denny students is built.


Dear Director McLaren,

I'll just be frank - I'm appalled.

I think it is fine to give students the tools to self-regulate and reflect on work they have done in class. 

So even if a student filled out this section of the student planner throughout the year AND made decent grades, opting out of SBAC testing would therefore (and solely) opt that student out of the carnival.  (I realized I got this part wrong - the rubric was only during testing - but that really doesn't change much because clearly - to Clark - it's not "my best performance.")

If a student gets disciplined for something that is NOT against the law or NOT against school rules, then it is punitive. 

But they can "appeal" to go which means having the courage to go and get the form and turn it in.  And apparently basically say "I was a bad person for opting out" or "opting out was wrong."  (I note Mr. Clark - or whoever wrote that explanation - doesn't say WHAT students had to say to get in his good graces.)

This is not - in any way, shape or form - "mutual respect."  Coercive?  Yes, I think so and so far, so do my readers.  If you want kids to dislike adults, this is surely the way to do it.

Unless, of course, your only goal is to get both parents and students in line to take a test.

Melissa Westbrook
Seattle Schools Community Forum Blog


And can I just add, how fun was it for those teachers to have to monitor and read each rubric every day and then tell Principal Clark who was on the naughty list?
Anonymous said…
This is truly unconscionable. We will look back at this period of testing madness with great shame.

- HS Teacher
Anonymous said…
Thank you for writing this letter, Melissa. This is insane. I agree with HS Teacher: we have lost our minds over testing nowadays and it will be looked on poorly in the history books. Gack.

North End Parent
Anonymous said…
It's a tough lesson for some kids to learn to stand up for their parents beliefs, but, opting out was seen as cool and was fostering a slacker mentality at our MS. Actions have consequences and having to appeal was the requirement. Not too difficult compared to taking the tests AND filling out a self-assessment.
Middle schoolers need a taste of authority. I doubt it poisoned them.

college prof
Po3 said…
This almost made me cry.

These poor kids, first handcuffed to their desks for hours taking a long awful test. Then forced to complete a form explaining how well they behaved while handcuffed to their desk, taking the long awful test. Then evaluated on how they evaluated themselves to "establish the eligibility list for the carnival."

And Directors McClarens response: great potluck dinner, yum yum.

Just makes me ill.
Anonymous said…
What an additional waste of time for the teachers in addition to the wonderful SBAC testing they had to administer. I would not be pleased if this were my child and he/she had to jump through this additional hurdle to participate in a school sponsored activity that should have been available to him/her. I do see this as punitive toward these students. My daughter who was opted out of the SBAC helped read to 1st graders, did photocopying, did some homework, helped a couple of other teachers in their classrooms, and was not punished in any way for opting out. She was not required to jump through additional hurdles to participate in the end of year class field trips. How are schools allowed to handle opting out to inconsistently? Sad to see Marty's reply on this...very disappointing....

Anonymous said…
Scholars? That's really bland and catering to low expectation. I prefer the term, doctorial dreamers or future commander in chiefs.

"a taste of authority?" Oh yes, those middle schoolers who opted out need to have the foot of their principal firmly on their necks. How else do they know who's boss?

This is one principal being petty and punitive with no legal reason to do so.
Delusional said…
Students need an opportunity to have fun and celebrating at the end of the school year is an excellent opportunity to do so.

I hope Martha McLaren enjoyed the fried chicken. She has become nothing more than a district apologist.
mirmac1 said…
NNNCr Bland? Catering? I agree that Clark's pandering knows no bounds. What does he call the students and families who declined to be test subjects. Slackers, losers, undeserving, saboteurs of the next promotion, etc etc.
Anonymous said…
college prof said: "Actions have consequences and having to appeal was the requirement. Not too difficult compared to taking the tests AND filling out a self-assessment.
Middle schoolers need a taste of authority. I doubt it poisoned them."

Gag. Barf. Hopefully, it poisoned them against growing up to a lifetime of being managed and overseen by preening twits.

Now, mind you, I am not calling either college prof or Mr. Clark a "p.t." -- because that would be name calling, which is justifiably against blog rules. BUT -- if a kid grew up and went to work for some nameless adult, who was compelled by law to administer a punitive, irrelevant, "designed to fail most of the employees so some big private company can justify taking over remedial employee education" test (and was selling all their private test response information on the side, for extra gain) -- and the boss was told he would be fired if he refused to give the test -- or even publicly complained. You know, one could be sympathetic towards such a boss -- but then, if some of the employees refused to take the tests -- as a form of protest against the stupidity, cost, and bad intent behind it all -- if the boss then voluntarily decided that he would pass out bonuses, based on who didn't take the test, and someone stood around on the side, cheering him on and declaring that "a taste of authority was good for them, and it didn't poison them" -- well, although I am not one for name calling, I guess I DO think there WOULD probably be SOME pejorative names out there that might aptly apply to such folks.

mirmac1 said…
yer my kinda people Jan
Delusional said…
"Middle schoolers need a taste of authority. I doubt it poisoned them.'

Really?! Middle school is a time for social and emotional growth, and peers play an important part. Nothing like excluding a kid for a parental decision.
Charlie Mas said…
Principal Clark is free to have whatever opinion he likes, but he needs to get his facts straight.

1) The students didn't opt out of the test; their parents or guardians opted them out of the test. He wrote: "those who opted not to participate", but there were no students who opted not to participate.

2) Students had to make an "appeal" to be allowed to participate - as if they had been found guilty. Since, according to Principal Clark, every student who appealed was allowed to participate, it's clear that opting out was never a reason for exclusion and therefore never should have been a factor in the exclusion.

3) Principal Clark wrote "The My Best Performance Carnival was a great success and enjoyed thoroughly by all." Well, not by all because it was not enjoyed by those who were not allowed to attend.

I don't mind a difference of opinion, but a difference of facts needs to be corrected.
seattle citizen said…
What with they do with the "loser" students who did NOT turn in an adequate rubric assessing their assessment? Make them write "I am a failure" 100 times on the whiteboard?
Or did all the students who turned in a rubric pass?
Are the rubrics compared to observed performance, or are they merely lessons in how to write pretty words that the boss will like? What happens to an honest student who reflects that they didn't manage their time we'll or have a good attitude? Did they not get to go to the event? Or did all students write, I did great! to make the principal happy?
seattle citizen said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
seattle citizen said…
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Disgusted & Losing Faith said…
I know a 4.0 student (both academically and socially) at Denny who opted out and wasn't able to attend. In fact, the student was shown the "rule book" and talked to about following rules...God help us!!
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
This idea that jumping through hoops to show that you are not a 'slacker' is the goal of education, seems to be more & more pervasive. My high schooler saw it as a choice of how you were going to spend your time & energy in high school. Learning or jumping hoops. If you dedicated yourself to hoop jumping you would certainly sacrifice learning. So my kid got the 4.0, the 12 perfect AP scores, the perfect attendance, the never once late for class, never once late homework, never sat in the wrong chair, or forgot a textbook, hours & hours of useless standardized testing, etc. to prove to folks like college prof that was not a slacker & resented the heck out of it & felt betrayed by the educational system that hoop jumping was more valuable than learning. College is such a relief.

Anonymous said…
Charlie makes an excellent point here - if everyone who appealed was allowed to go then the opting out wasn't the real reason behind this. It is, as saddened notes, a lesson in learning to "play the game".

Sure, actions have consequences, and, yes, a kid who truly does something wrong has a lesson to learn. But that was never the situation here. What lesson did they learn? Cow-towing will get you far in life? "Bow down before the man it won't poison you?" This principal went too far. And frankly, having received a few similar emails from Director McLaren, its clear (and sad) that she lost her spine a very very long time ago.

so glad my kid didn't have this principal. wowza

Anonymous said…
What school carnival didn't suck anyways? Honestly. That stuff is for little kids. By middle school, if my kid really, really wanted to go to a reward-based carnival like that, I'd think there was something wrong with them. Let Clarke play his petty little games, falling in line with his bosses at JSCEE. Spit and polish that reward turd all you want, it's still about rewarding conformity and hoop-jumping over all else. Quite un-American, actually, and educational? Bah. I prefer my kid stand tall and learn the real lesson here: If you're courageous and don't join the clique, you'll be excluded by the mean girls. Those kids didn't ask for any favors, but I think they got a big, enlightening one here. If this doesn't prompt opt-out parties next year for the kids excluded by the mean girls, I'll be very disappointed.

Unknown said…
I am a reporter at KIRO Radio and would be very interested in speaking with any Denny parents affected by this. Thanks to Melissa as always for shining a light on such important issues. I'm just trying to shine it brighter.
Anonymous said…
Thank you, Josh Kerns (and Melissa)! I'm surprised that this has not gotten more attention from the media. Excluding students for exercising their rights is not acceptable. As an SPS employee, I'm appalled.

- HS Teacher
Dora Taylor said…
It's no wonder McLaren got basically a vote of no confidence in her own district a couple of weeks ago.

Madalyn Hooper Squires said…
I am completely- completely in support of students exercising their rights, but if this carnival is a reward for goals met during the testing, and you don't don't take the test, then it stands to reason you would be excluded. ACTIVISM COSTS, BUT ACTIVISM, IN AND OF ITSELF, PAYS. Make your own opt out carnival. Learning to forgo privilege for principal is something that everyone in the dominant culture in this country needs to embrace.
Eric said…
Hi folks,

I'm reading these comments and I don't see anyone who actually knows Mr. Clark or the Denny community or details about the appeals process, and the level of 'jumping to conclusions' concerns me as much as the school's action. My children both went through Denny (they are now high-schoolers at Chief Sealth), and I can attest that Mr. Clark has built a vibrant culture that engages his students and challenges them - with all kinds of support from his staff - to do better than they think they can. In my opinion he is one of the best principals in the system, and my sense is that he generally has the support of his school community.

I don't know anything about this incident other than what I have read here, so I will refrain from commenting on the specifics. If the appeals process is simply getting a form form the office, filling it out and submitting it to the school office, I'm not sure it is a big deal; it may indeed do well to suggest that actions have consequences. If on the other hand it requires multiple levels including a personal meeting with a school counselor, then it does seem punitive. The fact that every student who filed an appeal was allowed to attend the carnival suggests, at an initial glance, that the intent and effect was not particularly onerous.

So I suggest that someone talk to Denny parents or students and find out a little more about this program before flying off the handle about out of control testing.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
This is ridiculous. My son goes to Denny and we opted out (put it in his IEP) and had no issues whatsoever. He attended the carnival. Nobody said one word to us or him about him not attending. If the carnival was for those who took the test then they should attend the carnival. Those who did not take the test shouldn't attend. Period. So I guess my son shouldn't have attended (but we didn't realize there were issues). All this complaining about the Principal reminds me of a certain school a few years ago whose Principal said no to Halloween and the parents actually called the news. I see you've gotten Kiro involved in this. Ridiculous.

Reposted for above anonymous commenter. Anonymous comments not allowed.
Comment on anonymous's point: Your kid was on an IEP exception. That is the difference in why he wasn't asked to fill out the Dutiful Test Taking Student form. So your point is pointless.

The Stranger mentioned this debacle in its news roundup today.

Glad KIRO may cover the issue. Know who else would probably like to mention it nationwide? Diane Ravitch and that one blogger at the Washington Post. Maybe Melissa will pass this item or a KIRO story on to them? If it creates a circus (pun intended) so much the better.

Anonymous said…
As a parent of a Denny graduate, I would also like to chime in about not jumping to conclusions. While my child was at Denny, students were asked routinely (3-4 times a year) to complete a self-assessment about their classroom behavior which teachers then signed off on -- or not if they disagreed with the student's assessment. If there was disagreement, the student and teacher talked about it and made a plan for improvement. Or, in my child's case, she tended to under-assess herself and the teacher was able to point out to her examples that showed she was doing things we hope for all students -- arriving on time, asking questions when she didn't understand, helping peers understand and learn. Students whose self/teacher assessments passed a certain level where invited to participate in a fun school-wide activity -- a dance, the carnival (which usually consists of choices like playing board games, karaoke, capture the flag), a movie & popcorn. Overall, students responded well to this PROCESS of self- and teacher-assessment and were given some incentive and recognition for creating a good learning environment for themselves and their peers. And before you ride Mr. Clark out on a rail, please understand that he is a model principal in turning around a faltering middle school, in family engagement (particularly with our neighborhood's communities of color and immigrant families), in hiring and keeping excellent teachers, and in academic rigor and success for all students (not just the white, middle class ones). It is possible that extra hurdles were created to attend last week's carnival for students that opted-out and yes, he should be held accountable if this happened. But let's not demonize a principal or a school without full context and knowledge.

Denny/Sealth Parent
No would tell me what the appeals process was. I only know what Mr. Clark himself wrote.

I have no problem with the basic idea of self-reflection on work and behavior but this case is something different.

I have not ridden Mr. Clark "out on a rail" nor have I "demonized him." Indeed, I have said many good things about Denny and him in this blog in the past. But I disagree with this issue particularly when it was a parental decision and one that is legal.

Cheryl said…
This is tragic the emotional damage done to children in this type of environment will follow them throughout their lives. Shame on the school, shame on Principle Clark and shame on us as a community to allow this to continue.
Anonymous said…
Mr. Clark maybe a very good principal but even good principals make mistakes. His error was to make children responsible for the legal actions (rights) of their parents. Yes, it is punitive and comes very close to bullying.

And a carnival to celebrate testing...really... shouldn't the carnival be celebrating learning?

Longtime lurker
mirmac1 said…
If principals are expected to be the "model" education leader, then they deserve to be held to the highest standard.

If a teacher or student excluded my child for some arbitrary, destructive reason - then expect that I WILL be irate.

Should they be sacrified? No. Likewise quite sacrificing the teachers and students who refuse the hoop jumping.

Blind obedience seems to be what gets you ahead in the Tolley universe.
Anonymous said…
"Students whose self/teacher assessments passed a certain level where invited to participate in a fun school-wide activity -- a dance, the carnival (which usually consists of choices like playing board games, karaoke, capture the flag), a movie & popcorn. Overall, students responded well to this PROCESS of self- and teacher-assessment and were given some incentive and recognition for creating a good learning environment for themselves and their peers."

I keep trying to like this, but my spidey senses are tingling. This sounds like something that could work well with really great teachers -- and be a nightmare with a poor teacher, or one who bullies or belittles kids (and yes, my kids have described high school kids crying in the hall after being yelled at by a teacher; one of mine was ordered out of an after school study session for asking too many questions about math that he was struggling to understand (that teacher has thankfully now finally retired).

This business of rewarding kids based on whether their self assessments were "good enough" is WAY more subjective than I would like. In the hands of the wrong people, it comes down to "just how bootlicky CAN you be" -- so you can get the "treat."

The fact that the principal in question had the bad judgment to exclude kids for having the temerity to be the offspring of parents who opted them out of taking a test that they (the parents) were legally justifiable in opting them out of -- unless they basically appealed on the grounds that their parents were bad and foolish and shouldn't have done it -- doesn't do anything to make me feel better about this guy, though I hope for the kids' sake that what Denny/Sealth parent says is true.

Jan, exactly. What rubric were the teachers using to show good "performance?" What were the key words the kids needed?

As well, I'd like to see the form used for the appeal.

I did mention this at tonight Board meeting.
Denny Parent said…
In regards to the comment that students who wanted to attend the carnival are abnormal, please never underestimate the contradiction between logic and feelings of students grades 6-8. My student felt guilt upon attending when some friends were unable. Yet, I still think students enjoyed themselves. As a "normal" 11 year old they are considering refusing to go next year in solidarity with friends and classmates who were unable. The fact of the matter is that I should have opted them out of high stakes testing. There are many things to consider here. Please hold the adults accountable, and be accepting of the middle school transition time for students.
karen bracken said…
This is a prime example of do as I say or be punished. The states sold their souls to the federal government and now our kids are being held hostage. If a school fails to have 95% participation in high stakes testing they get penalized and that is the REAL motivation behind trying to force kids to take high stakes tests. It is all about saving their own butt not education.
Anonymous said…
"This year all of the scholars who opted out for non-medical reasons and appealed were granted entry into the carnival."

The ONLY reason I'm not joining in the chorus and demanding the resignation of this awful man Jeff Clark, is because I want to hear from him directly as to what this "appeal" process was all about.

Is he asking these children to "appeal" their individual consciences, or that of their parents? What exactly constituted the "appeal"? Will we get Mr. Clark to come clean on this, or will we hear more bullshit and rationalization?

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