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Public school is based on the the principle of inclusion, not exclusion. Kids are accepted however they arrive through the front door. Different ethnic backgrounds, economic status, personal triumphs or challenges –everyone is on equal footing. Most importantly, serving the needs of each and every students is job one. Excluding children or using them to meet the personal objectives of the adults who run the school or district, violates the core mission of our public schools. That’s why we find two recent events at Denny Middle School so disturbing.
First, Jeff Clark, Principal of Denny International Middle School and promoter of Teach for America populating his school, made the controversial decision to deny kids –whose parents had opted them out of the SBAC–access to the school carnival. Principal Clark’s decision has provoked understandable outrage in the parent community. This story was first reported by Melissa Westbrook on Save Seattle Schools Community Forum, after a parent contacted her reporting the incident.
Follow up reporting included an explanation by Jeff Clark of his actions and a response by Director Marty McLaren, school board member for District 6, West Seattle.
From Principal Jeff Clark:
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
· 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.
And then from Seattle School Board Director Marty McLaren:
CC: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
RE: Opted out students and Denny
Date: Tue, 2 Jun 2015 19:34:01
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.
Hosting a “My Best Performance Carnival” sends a clear message to kids: do what the adults want or you will be punished. No amount of spin about “rewarding scholars” can remove the taint from this type of sort and punish incentive.
Now, onto the second example of students at Denny Middle School being used to meet the personal objectives of adults in positions of authority. Turns out, testing is far from over at Denny Middle School for 116 ELL students. Why? Because one of Denny’s “grantors to our City Year program needs the data from MAP as part of the funding requirement for next year and they won’t accept SBAC or any of the other data that has been produced this year.” To learn more, please read the following letter sent to the blog:
As a passionate believer in public education I am obliged to sound an alarm because not doing so is a moral failure. What I’m seeing play out in my school right now is indeed alarming.
We currently have two weeks of school left and another round of standardized testing has just been scheduled. Since April the library, which has two class sized computer labs, has been given over completely to testing. Instead of having students come to the library because it has the densest concentration of resources in the school with it books and technology, students are coming because it is a testing center. That is a misapplication of the funding the people of Washington, through its legislature, believe was allocated to promote reading and assist students with research and the completion of class projects, in other words a library program.
To be fair, students have been able to check out books and on a very limited basis to print papers. This is largely because I am a strong advocate for student access to library resources. But it is easy to imagine a zealous administration bent on completing the necessary 95% tested requirement that is in force from OSPI, completely eliminating student access to maintain a “proper testing environment”.
Right now SBAC has been completed but the ELL students are taking the STAMP test, and teachers have started sending students into the library to print, figuring that the testing has eased up. But, yesterday we learned that we need to test 116 students because one of the grantors to our City Year program needs the data from MAP as part of the funding requirement for next year and they won’t accept SBAC or any of the other data that has been produced this year. Here is the explanation for this late entry into the data race from the principal’s email, “At the start of this year, we had planned to take the Amplify test for literacy and MAP test for math for all scholars.
The Amplify testing has been completed for some time. The spring math MAP had been planned for June for all scholars to show growth between fall and spring, as we have done for many years in a row. It had also been written into some of our grants. This year, due to the scope of the SBAC, I decided to try to reduce the amount of math spring MAP testing. To do this I needed to work with two major grant organizations, the City of Seattle Seattle Families and Education Levy and the Diplomas Now grant. The City of Seattle staff were able to switch our grant to remove Spring Math MAP.
The Diplomas Now partnership receives Federal AmeriCorps funding as a major source of funding to pay for City Year Corps members—for this grant, we were not able to make the change to remove Spring Math MAP. Additionally, we also need to include literacy MAP for scholars on the focus lists. The end result of this is that we have reduced the number of Denny scholars who are going to take the Spring MAP down to 116 (the group who benefit from direct support by our City Year Corps Members).”
What I see as unfair is this, these 116 students are already some of the most stressed students in the school. Many of them are the same ELL students who are STAMP testing in the very next room. STAMP is in addition to SBAC which is required of all students. ELL students also take the additional WELPA. Now all of a sudden they have to do MAP, merely to satisfy a foundation hungry for data.
This is exploitative and predatory in my opinion. I envision vampires sucking data from our student body to feed some corporate greed. It seems so clearly wrong to subject these children to this degree of over testing that not resisting it is a moral failure. These children do not understand why they are being tested and their parents don’t even know that they are being tested. It saddens me that our leadership has struck this Faustian bargain with these public/private partnerships and have relinquished so much decision making to out of sight authorities.
When a school principal who will ostracize (banish, exclude, expel, cast out) a student who has worked hard all year and made the grade because they chose to stand up for their rights, something is wrong.
When our English Language Learners are forced to take yet another test, even though the test they just completed could provide the results required by a grant, then something is very wrong.
This culture of testing brought on by corporate ed reform and neoliberal billionaire do-gooders who think they know what’s best for the rest of us and our children, fueled by testing companies and other education enterprises that have been established in response to the demands of assessments and the Common Core (National) Standards, has pushed our students to the brink. These people don’t see our children as human but only as beans to be counted, data to be put into a spreadsheet and guinea pigs to be experimented on.
It’s time to put a halt to this insanity and say “Enough is enough!”
-Carolyn Leith and Dora Taylor
…and replace School Board Director Marty McLaren.