Friday, February 21, 2014

Data Walls in Classrooms (Coming to a School Near You?)

Read this article by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post.  It should cause you to consider what is coming.   Following on the heels of that article is her next one where one privacy expert says this could violate FERPA.

Really, the photo, from Caledwell County Schools in North Carolina, says it all.

In some places, parents and teachers are getting tired of embarrassing kids. New England Public Radio reported earlier this month that teachers and parents have banded together in Holyoke, Mass. to petition schools officials to stop publicly displaying student achievements on classroom data walls. District superintendent Sergio Paez, who has been pushing schools to use more data, said that students are not supposed to be identified, but teachers said they feel pressure to do so.
The In These Times reported that Agustin Morales, an English teacher at Maurice A. Donahue Elementary School in Holyoke, said she thinks data walls are mean, but she has felt pressure to create them. This story said:

One of his top students did poorly on a standardized test in November and found her name at the bottom of the data wall. Afterward, in a writing assignment for class, she “wrote about how sad she was, how depressed she was because she’d scored negatively on it. She felt stupid.”

“So why do I hate data walls?” he continued. “Because of how she felt that day. She felt worthless. She felt like she wasn’t as good as other people.”

From a teacher commenting on a story about data at the Scholastic website:

Someone tell me how covering the classroom walls with this data is a better idea than pictures, sentence starters, words of encouragement, charts and graphs of historical importance, student artwork, multiplication tables, bar graphs of favorite books, imagination grabbers, thought-provoking ideas, scientific discoveries, pictures of important people, student projects, photos of the class doing, learning, pictures of animals, interactive bulletin boards, classroom birthdays, seasonal pictures, class schedules, math facts, history facts, reading facts and anything else that may foster a love of learning.


Anonymous said...

From the Washington Post:

"A U.S. Education Department spokeswoman says officials there are planning to issue guidance on the overall issue of student privacy soon."

Given what Duncan et al did to FERPA, this will be one announcement to watch.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Saw that Ed Voter, thought the same thing.

Every state - including ours -needs it's own student data privacy law. I plan on doing what I can to make that happen.

mirmac1 said...


Anonymous said...

If I ever see one of these data walls in person in SPS, I am likely to spill my morning coffee on it.

--Anti Data Wall

Mark Ahlness said...

Anti Data - you'll see 'em in SPS staff meetings...

Anonymous said...

How about walk-to's and self-contained Spectrum classrooms? The same arguments are used against that kind of grouping.
In my day it was gold stars on a chart for spelling, multiplication tables, maybe more. Competition can be good and it can be bad.

Anonymous said...

Great—we've gone from every kid gets a trophy to every kid gets shamed for less than perfect scores. There's got to be some middle ground.

Solvay Girl

Anonymous said...

ummmm... be careful what we wish for.

what about printing missing assignments out for the last week, using only student numbers, and posting it in the same place every week so that kids who don't have fancy 24*7*365 internet can make sure that they have all their assignments in ? Oh yeah, and posting using a random sort of student ids, so kids can know that susie or joe is always #21?

(pst ... ya know that idea of only telling the kids who are missing stuff ... HOW do you do that with 15 to 25 absences a day out of 145 a day? and the 120 +/- who are staying on top of their work - they should be slowed down because 15 or so of their class mates miss at least 1 or more EXCUSED-by-parents class a week?

While I'm not defending this public shaming - and that is all these deformers are about - in these chaotic times there is actually a genuine non-shaming reason for posting what students have earned on assignments and for posting what they're missing...


Anonymous said...


should be "so kids won't be able to say that susie or joe is always #21?"


Anonymous said...

I have old age eye sight so can't tell, are those little squares on the chart actually kids names?!


Anonymous said...

Part of this is genuinely tough... not all students have access to computers and thus the Source in terms of identifying their late/missing assignments. One of the best ways to help communicate that is to post the assignments/scores list by student ID # (fortunately, for the most part in high school, the students don't know who is who because each class has different students). Admittedly I'm not doing that this year only because of a different course load in which it isn't helpful. Hopefully the privacy afforded with the Source/future online grading systems will make this tool a moot point, but historically at least having this option to communicate with students is a huge help.

Yes, I and others sometimes print out grade reports to hand to each and every student, but this wastes lots of paper and, unfortunately, the students who need the list of catch-up work to do tend to be those most prone to losing/misplacing the list.

We need some tools to communicate which may not be perfect, thus part of my concern about the excesses of these data walls is the backlash will result in restrictions of existing time-effective and cost-effective methods of communicating to students.

I like the idea of putting up exemplary student work, and in most cases students are perfectly OK with their name being on exemplary work, but agreed that clearly identified publicly-identifiable negative info should be guarded to some extent.

The Balance?

Anonymous said...

I think the obvious difference between obscurely posting grades (which violates FERPA if done by student ID# rather than an unidentifiable teacher assigned number) and posting a data wall, as shown, is that bulletin boards are much more prominent. Rather than simply posting the information for the benefit of the individual student, the data walls send the message that comparisons among students are important. They take the added step of sorting the students into A,B,and C categories, which a simple list would not do.


Anonymous said...

I do grade checks periodically, I can print lists of just students and their missing assignments. I don't remember how it comes out on SPS, but mine just lists students one after another, so 5 classes might be on 2 pages. I just cut the strips apart and pass those back to students.

The other option is that I have a lengthy individual assignment in class (book work, paper writing, movie) and do individual grade checks with each student, so they can get a list of things to look for. I tend to get a lot of missing forgot-to-turn-it-in work this way, as I can show them a copy of what it should look like.

Granted, the chronically absent miss these, but at least if I have a lot of printed slips there's a somewhat up-to-date record of what they need to do that I can hand to them when they do show up, and they always pay lip-service to coming in before school, at lunch, or after school to catch up, though we all know that never happens.

Glad I left Seattle

Melissa Westbrook said...

I think some of you are missing the point. This is NOT telling kids what grade they received on an assignment.

It is publicly sorting them within their class and calling them "basic, proficient and advanced." How did "we" do says the title.

I would say that putting up this kind of info - whether data or grades - should be up to the teacher (within FERPA) and not a regimented tasked assigned.

Anonymous said...

If a school is not using letter grades, but instead uses standards based grading, then advanced, proficient, and basic equate to A, B, and C. Our child's teacher will grade ES (exceeding standard) or MS (meeting standard) or ? and assign numerical grades of 1.0 (ES), 0.85 (MS), etc. for the report card. So for schools using standards based grading, it is both sorting them and posting the equivalent of grades.


Anonymous said...

OMG! Those exist in SPS right now! I've seen them in both a Northend K-8 and Southend K-5 school. Though both were in main offices vs. a hallway. While Grade levels were attached there were no student names.

A SPS teacher.

Anonymous said...

These exhibits have been all the rage since the mid stages of NCLB in many parts of the country. Like many things educational, they often it the northwest much later.

I find the term "Data Wall" in the same realm as other creepy edu-speak, like "Walk to Math" etc.

To me, it is sickening to put kids' names on the wall like that because the motive is not to help the child, but to help the school get more brownie points when administrators occasionally show up with their checklists and then do their "classroom walks."

--enough already

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to see the outrage in the context of practices of not so long ago (i.e. 100 years). I think public assessments can be motivating for many students (I'd find it difficult to determine exactly how many of the students, and, I guess, I'd want to test the hypothesis, rather than just rely on my gut instinct, which could easily be wrong).

I would have (and did) find the equivalents motivating (i.e. the ordering of students in the math classroom, or the competitions for chairs in orchestra). It's been shown that runners can run faster against the competition (in an interesting experiment, that runners can run faster than themselves, in simulation -- they beat their best times).

The premise, is to show children what their peers are capable of, with the assumption that they too are capable of being proficient. The key is to separate the performance/behavior from the person, who is of value even if they scored poorly on a test on a particular day. It's not an American way of thinking, but worth teaching our kids, because they will compete and be ranked, even if we oppose it in their schools.

I'm not going to try to justify that wall: it does seem to violate FERPA, it doesn't fit with American culture now, doesn't seem well thought out, and I'm not confident enough of my belief that the "right" level of competition can improve performance to impose it on others.

But I do worry that in a concern for people who aren't on top (even in something as minor as one particular quiz), we are overvaluing the meaning of those competitions and teaching children that not winning means they are losers, which isn't what it means.


Lynn said...

The goal of a math class is for the students to learn math - not to be better at math than their classmates. My children wouldn't find public assessments enjoyable - they're empathetic enough that they'd be horrified to see a classmate's failing score posted on a wall. It's not fun to be the kid who has the top score all the time either - just another way to note that you don't fit in.

I see this assumption all the time - that real life is all competing and being ranked. I haven't experienced either in my professional life.

Anonymous said...

Starting at about middle school most kids know exactly where they stand in comparison to their peers in English, math and science. It doesn't take a data wall. It is the way kids are grouped for lessons. It is talk on the playground. It is participation or nonparticipation in class.

Not defending the data walls. They are not defendable. But 'academic confidentiality' on subject proficiency is not a reality. Ditto which kids are getting special education or advanced learning services. If the administration doesn't talk about it, the teachers do. If the teachers don't talk about it, the student himself-herself does. Quite often a lot. If the student doesn't talk about it, the peers do. If the peers don't, the parents do.

At least the talk generally seems matter of fact instead of derogatory, with the exception of parents who seem uniquely able to be brutal and rude about their own kids' peers.

Because I cannot think of a way to make things more academically confidential, I put a lot of time into teaching my own kids my expectations of their school performance and behavior, how to set their own expectations of school performance and behavior as they become more independent, and how to act respectfully toward classmates who are on different academic (and life) paths. Because nobody is on the exact same academic or life path and we still need to function as a community while working on our personal goals.


Anonymous said...

When I was in high school, teachers might tell us the class average on a particular test or assignment, plus the high and low score. No one knew who had what score. That was probably the most helpful feedback as a student. I knew where I stood, plus could gauge the relative difficulty of the test from the class statistics. It was similar to the feedback from the data wall, but so much more respectful of students' privacy. Do teachers do this anymore?


Anonymous said...

I had a teacher who handed back homework in order of who did best to who did worst in 6th grade while announcing the letter grades. It was awful and painful for the whole class every time. It was a class I did well in so I was often at the top, but it's still painful to think about. Yes, kids would have known who was about where in this class anyway. There was just no need to torture the kids who struggled this way. It fostered nothing positive. Learning should be a journey you take yourself. It has nothing to do with competing. There are plenty of opportunities for competition for those who need it. This kind of thing is destructive. And it's a violation of privacy. Adults would never put up with this kind of thing in any setting. But we expect our kids to do this? Those who worry that those at the bottom aren't already suffering enough are wrong. They are. If your kid is doing well can't that be its own reward?

Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

I do that at the University level. You are right - it gives students instant and private feedback about where they stand.

There are a lot of things that are routinely done at the University level that could be adapted to the middle and high schools. Teacher evaluations by students for one. And means, high and low score. This is all pretty easy, a no brainer (no pun intended).

-University Professor

Anonymous said...

Ugh, this is SUCH a Teach for America thing. Go to any TFA classroom and you will see this. I'd rather not get into my unfortunate brush with TFA, but I can say with confidence that every core member is taught to display this type of data in their classroom. I don't think sharing some of this is necessarily bad; I get the power of a class seeing they've improved over time and I like the idea of incorporating some math into my English classes. But these data walls totally take the joy out of learning and becomes all about the progress, ratting out who is dragging the class down, etc.

~Kent Teacher