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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

In some of the elementary schools in the district I work in, teachers are strongly encouraged to display the results of student tests (such as reading fluency or interim "benchmark" assessments) in the classroom. Each child's score is identified -- a name next to a number, visible to all students, parents, and staff.

I'm not intending to engage in a massive debate around standardized testing in this post, (I recognize that the practice I'm critiquing is a result of testing-madness) but I am questioning the making-public of personal data especially for very young children.

The Potential Harm

In one school I visited a second grade teacher hung her data poster on the outside of the classroom door. Perhaps because I am a mother, I often imagined being the parent of one of the students whose name was at the bottom, in the red zone. What would it feel like to bring my child to this door everyday? And what would it feel like (this I could barely imagine; it made me feel sick) to be one of those seven-year-old children on the bottom, to see my name there each morning as I arrived at school?

I have talked about this with other teachers and principals. They claim that the shame is not where the child is, but that our society, our education system allows them to be there. Posting the data only makes public what was once unseen. They argue that the data is displayed so that we -- educators, parents, and children -- will be motivated to work harder and so that we will be inspired throughout the year as the scores increase. "It's about taking collective responsibility for our kids and seeing the growth," boast the champions of this practice.

Even if children are making progress during the year, I do not understand the need to publically identify each child and her score. Why cultivate a classroom climate so focused on test score growth? And for those in the lowest bands, in the red and orange, could the shame and humiliation really be motivating?

I am aware that all of us who work with and in schools have to deal with the standardized testing demands and their demons, but why not protect our kids as much as possible from this mania? We should draw the line at posting children's names in classrooms next to designation such as far below basic. I would never allow my son to be in a classroom where this was happening.

An Ethical Display of Data

I do believe that data can be publically displayed in a way that respects every child wherever he or she is at, and which could be used to motivate students. For example, I have seen data charts in classrooms showing the percentage of a class that has mastered a particular standard; this score is updated as assessments are delivered throughout the year.

I have also seen individual student data displayed according to the percentage of growth made -- "Raquel: 75 percent increase in words per minute!" I think I'm okay with that.

Recognizing students for demonstrating school values.

Credit: Elena Aguilar

But data displays should not be limited to reading fluency or math mastery. Students' other skills and talents should also be acknowledged publicly. I have seen charts recognizing children who demonstrate a school's values such as "Persevering" and "Demonstrating Integrity." I have seen charts recognizing students who excelled at artistic or physical education skills or who didn't miss a day of school in one month or who were kind to their kindergarten buddies.

What if students were encouraged to set goals -- academic, social, or emotional -- and what if they charted their progress on those goals and selected what kind of information they wanted to have displayed? What if we only displayed data that reflected a child's success? There is plenty of research demonstrating that what we focus on grows.

Let's allow our students some say in what kind of data they share, let's focus on their successes and paint our doors with that good news. That's a classroom I'd want to walk into.

What do you think about this issue? How do you display student data in your classrooms?

Comments (24)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Like most of the other comments here, I am greatly concerned with the idea of displaying students achievements in such an obvious way. If I was the parent of a child who was struggling, I'd be horrified if they were singled out at being near the 'bottom' of the class. I've done a lot of reading on the idea of academic self-esteem and self-concept, and this kind of approach has hugely negative effects on almost all students except those at the very pinnacle of these charts.

Having said that, I like the creative approaches outlined above - especially those showing class improvement. That suggests a recognition of the importance of collaborative learning. I'll be considering those kind of things in my classrooms.

Paul Owens's picture

At my school, we have also grappled with the idea of posting testing results. Anything to get them to care and do better on State testing seems to be the motto around here. We have agreed not to post any test info next to names but have currently allowed test info to be posted next to a school id# which only that student would know. However, now the kids who do well pressure others to share and it seems as though there is no way to post info without seriously hurting those who perform poorly. The students who perform poorly want to do better and posting this information will in no way help them, it just discourages a positive attitude towards school because the chances are that they have been poor performing for years and dont need it rubbed in every time they walk into the classroom.

carol galic's picture

Not ok.... as a parent of a child with LD's and a teacher....Just like it is NEVER OK to have kids exchange papers for correcting. Everyone in the class knows who the academically weak students are, or the kids who are disengaged, etc. No one is interested in competing unless they feel they have a chance of winning so what's the point in posting test scores or improvement data by individual scores? Does it make kids do better that next time? Probably not. It only makes the strugglers feel still less accomplished than their academically gifted peers. We should be pushing for creating independent thinkers and life long learners and celebrating that, not test score builders.

Ryan's picture

I think the point by Elena is very valid, but in the end I dont think you can again lose the fact of what standardized testing is doing to the teachers and school districts. You could also debate is it fair then to post all of our school districts results in the paper and show the breakdowns which then make a group of teachers/students potentially look bad? Have a school doing poorly and have all area newspapers report on it and what can potentially happen to that school. Restrictions, funding, teacher removal, principal removal, etc. With open enrollment in small areas what type of students do you think this school may potentially lose and even potentially get as a result? I would love them to report the "Good news" of the students successes and huge growth but it doesnt. Is that a valid comparision?

This leads to the question then of what is fair. Is numbering or symbols even private enough? I know my kids cant stay quiet about what they got on tests and what number they are on any type of report that is displayed. Usually the ones that are lower are my first to tell everyone what number they are. Many parents even know what their friends child's number is and compares them at conferences.

I think in the end every teacher is trying to find the answer or key to helping their students learn real life applications but yet make the school perform well on tests. I dont blame this teacher in the example for trying because sometimes our higher level educational system is to blame for leading us down that path. It doesnt mean I think students names should be posted on walls but just dont agree with the positions teachers are being put in to start.

Amanda Navajas's picture
Amanda Navajas
4th/5th grade teacher in an EFL program, Brazil

Your posting not only invited me to read, but compelled me to write a few words on this issue!

A few years ago, my classroom was filled with charts that displayed test results and grades, grades, grades, a lot of grades.
At that time, I thought by looking at those charts, students would get motivated and would set goals to surpass the issues they needed to improve. I was completely mistaken and naive to think that such action would have promoted such reaction.
By doing that I just motivated my students to compare results among them, and no good thing came out of that. Also, the other hideous side effect of this practice was to discourage and demotivate the students whose scores were mediocre or low. It was practically the opposite of what I first meant. I wanted to get THESE students to improve and reach better results, and ironically these were the ones who suffered most from this abominable practice.

Nowadays I just display on my walls things that might encourage and inspire them. Anything that might put them in a rank, or humiliate them is off my walls, for sure!!!
Frankly speaking, this was nothing but a problem in my life, and thank God, it was a lesson learned. :)

Jamie's picture
Connecticut Elementary School Teacher

In a school that is largely driven by test scores, we are told what strands to teach, and when and how to teach them. In our data teams and throughout the school, we display the percentage of mastery of all standards (or strands). However, we display these percentages by classroom. I believe that this is not the best way to display data either. Classes go by and look at the scores displayed and then the students label classes accordingly (eg. "Look at Mrs. Smith's class, we are so much higher then them!"). I think that this creates problems and issues among students. In a school nearby, they display their subject scores on bulletin boards outside their doors. The students are constantly looking at these boards to see if they have "moved up." As educators, we know that students most certainly are aware of where they stand in class ranking. We try to cover it, but it does not work. I think that this practice of displaying scores should not only be shunned, but also banned from school districts. As educators, how are we to inspire and motivate young minds when all they can see is their "mark" (name or just a dot) on a chart displayed for all to see? Thanks for the insightful posts.

Catherine Scott's picture
Catherine Scott
Supt/ Principal of Small District

We just had our monthly assembly yesterday and handed out certificates to each child who had made any growth on the benchmarks. We recognized it as percentage of improvement. We felt that it provided the opportunity to recognize students who are striving to make gains without providing the actual score in a public way. Often the students on the lower end of the scale don't get recognized but this method allowed for ALL student to be recognized. One third grade girl who had received two certificates one for math and one for ELA which showed over 30% increase in her score was THRILLED to be one of the highest achievers. It may just change her self perception regarding her abilities.

I agree with the author that public display of actual scores with names is not humane, or helpful or motivating. I would not allow it in my school. I am surprised this has not been challenged as a violation of confidentiality.

Lindsey Grubbs's picture


This has also been a question in my mind during the three years of my teaching career. When I started teaching, the other second grade teachers displayed reading and math levels of all students in their class. I was very surprised by this. I choose not to display testing results because I felt bad for those students who did not achieve as high of scores as others. My second year came along and I thought I am going to try it this year. If it becomes a problem I will no longer display the information. It just so happened that during this school year, the students were very much so like little adults! Very mature for second grade and extremely supportive of one another. By displaying the data the students became very excited and motivated. No students were ever ashamed. However, this school year has been the opposite. New year=new students right?! This year, displaying the data was not successful so I choose not to.

I think if the atmosphere of the classroom and the students poses a threat to any student, do not display. However, if the students can handle displaying the results then do it. For me, it has been different each year.

I would never want a student to start disliking school or to be embarrassed simply about a test score being displayed when school has also been a joy to them before. How awful! For some students, having low testing results may result in motivation and determination to do better. For others, having low testing results may result in the student just giving up.

shawnnarenee's picture

I teach in a Title I school and I display my students work all over the room and in the hallways. I only allow my students to put their first name on the paper and I NEVER grade the paper before putting the work up. Some students are very private about their grade and don't share their grades with the other students so I couldn't imagine how they would feel if I posted their grade for the entire school to see. I don't feel how a student did on a particular assignment shows thier intelligence or potential. Grow over a period of time means more to me then how a student is doing at any one particular time during the year.

I have students keep graphs of their reading success in their guided reading binders. It shows a positive growth on their level of reading and promotes a healthy self esteem.

Margaret's picture

I want to first start off my saying that I really enjoyed your post. Posting student achievement scores is something that my school requires. I have never felt comfortable posting these scores. I do not believe that students should be recognized by a number on a test. There is so much more to student achievement than how they did on a standardized test. I feel that parents should only have access to their students test scores not everyone child's in my class. With that said though, I do believe that a variety of student work should be posted but it should exemplify every child's best work.

I am a Kindergarten teacher and even though most of my children do not "understand" their test scores, I do see it being a huge problem in the later grades. We teach to encourage children to do their best, by displaying that they are less than mediocre might hinder their potential for success.

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