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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

Maria Selke's picture

This isn't just bad for the struggling students. At some point, the strong kids get picked on for doing well. I remember hiding my test scores as I walked down the hall, to avoid being picked on.

Kids avoid standing out, especially in middle and high school. This starts to happen even in upper elementary. This practice could lead those strong kids to "throw" questions to avoid the issue - the exact opposite of what they want to see.

Meredith Ribeiro's picture
Meredith Ribeiro
1st Grade Teacher, Urban School District

This idea is so scary to me as a first grade teacher in a state where kindergarten is not required by law. Several of my students will be held back this year, because they should have stayed back in kindergarten (which we can't do unless the parents agree), or they did not go to kindergarten at all. Their test scores (state, and classroom) are extremely low, however, I do my best to make them all feel successful and to help them grow as learners. The student who was getting 0% - 20% on average on the beginning of the year spelling tests is now getting 50% - 60% in a given week! This is still failing but it is a huge improvement! I would never hang these tests or a list of their scores! I also fear that the students who always get good scores would be labeled negatively also! Parents do not need to see how well their child's peers are doing either! Most of the displays that I hang are writing projects (final copy always looks great) or art type projects that reflect learning in science, math, social studies, literature, etc. Grades are always on the back of student work that will be displayed.

Tamekia's picture

I am strongly against the posting of any kind of personal information in the classroom that can make a student feel like they have something to be ashamed about. Posting individual students grades is not the best situation for all students. I do agree with posting each child's accomplishments as long as you can post an accomplishment about each and every child. This encourages students to continue to do better without making them feel ashamed. If the teacher wants to post average grades for the classroom as a whole then that would be better but singling out students is never a good idea.

Stephanie's picture
Stephanie
8th Grade Language Arts

I have an 8th grade English classroom. This year was my first year teaching, so I tried to do my own thing in the classroom, but I still relied a lot on other teachers in my building as models.

During the first trimester, I struggled to get my students to reach their individual A.R. reading goals. Many of them did not reach their goals at all. So, I discussed what I should do with a cohort of other teachers, and I decided that I should talk to the students and propose displaying their goals for everyone to see. However, they would still have a degree of anonymity. Essentially, the students all have different reading levels and A.R. goals, these are private. I have three sections on my wall labeled 50%, 75%, and 100% or above. I asked my students if it would be ok to use a die-cut or image to represent each of them and move the object as they progress toward 100%. They liked the idea, in fact, not one student objected. I saw HUGE growth!! They went from about 65% passing in trimester 1 to 99% passing in trimester 2. And, the kids LOVE moving their own object. They also know that if they "lose" their object or move it to a section that is not representative of their actual grade, that is ok as well... it's their wall. I have a separate log of what their grade actually is, which is for my benefit.

I think that if you talk with your students and ask them what they think would work best for them, they will either tell you that your idea stinks (if you have a good classroom community) or they will help you think of an alternative. :)

Latanya's picture

When a parent of a former student asked me why my student's scores were not on the "Math Whiz" wall, I had to restrain myself from launching into a political tirade. I told her I didn't like the idea and chose not to partcipate. "But wouldn't most of your students have stars next to their name?" she asked. Each class list is posted outside of the cafeteria and stars are put next to the names of students that can successfully perform rote math activities at their grade level. "Yes they would, but what about the kid that has nothing? It's not okay with me." She understood.

Funny thing is, when our school was undergoing a third party evaluation in preparation for charter renewal, this issue came up as something negative. The observers noted that the use of "fluency flowers" and other charts were counterproductive.

Just recently a student in my afterschool class told me he couldn't read because he was "in the red." Three years later and not everyone got the memo.

Ms. M's picture
Ms. M
High School Spanish Teacher MN

One cannot argue that it is extremely important for teachers to analyze and know exactly which student is where and how they're performing. Adversely, how can one ascertain that it is necessary for every student in the class to know exactly where his or her peers are performance-wise? This seems to me a "no-brainer." Individual students need to know and be aware of their individual scores/data so that they know where they are and where they need to be, but there is no reason for the person sitting next to them to know. I think it's wonderful that a class might know where they are overall and if one feels the need, the posting of anonymous data representations (i.e. the ladder) is acceptable and, to some, might be motivating. The posting of the student-specific data to the public is wrong and certainly has to be in violation of FERPA on a good number of levels.

Ellie's picture
Ellie
6th grade English teacher

You make very good and valid points. I taught 3rd grade for a year in Arizona and we had to implement the Reading First program, where we were encouraged to put student reading fluency scores up on a bulletin board for all to see. They weren't saying to put names with the scores, but obviously the students would know. I never put up a bulletin board like this because I hated the idea that I was more a "tester" than a teacher. And I didn't want my classroom to be any more about testing than it had to be. I can see that if teachers foster an environment in their classrooms where there is deep respect for all, then putting scores like that up somewhere might not be as big of a deal if all students know they are valued and loved, and that everyone learns at their own pace, etc. and that they get to help each other out. If the environment is anything different than that, I definitely see the harm that would do to children. I like the idea of setting goals and having those displayed. That way, no one is "at the top" and no one is "at the bottom."

Tara's picture

Very interesting article! I am a firm believer in using ALL data in the classroom; which does include test scores, to increase student (and teacher) learning. However, I am uneasy with the fact that scores should be publicly posted. I want my students to know, reflect on, and analyze all their scores so they can learn from their work and monitor their own progress. It seems unrealistic that I would need to make this information public in order for my students to want to contiue to improve. Each of my students has a folder in which to keep graphs showing quick recall of basic math facts and at-home reading minutes. My students reflect on their progress (or sometimes downfalls) on a weekly basis and truly look forward to this time and use it in the process of continuous improvement. Their job when reflecting is to think about: "Why did my score go up/down from last week?" "What changed to help with improvement?" "What other changes could I make so I can improve my learning even more?" We do have public conversations from students that volunteer about what helped their learning or what they noticed they could work on to help their learning improve more. In this way, we are making their study habits and learning process public by choice, but not showing their scores to the public. My students enjoy hearing how, where, and when their classmates read and study at home. They are interested in each others' gains and progress, but we share these gains through our conversations about HOW to improve; not a showing of scores. This encourages my class of third graders to find and share helpful ways to study/learn.

Wylanda's picture

I like the idea about posting students' talents and best work. I want every student to feel positive that they are taking a part in their learning. Our school is now requiring teachers to post student progress on the wall. I like to display all of my students' work and giving them the opportunity to feel proud of their work. If teachers are only allowed to display students' achievements judged mainly by standardized tests, then what about the students who struggle with learning and rarely make a passing grade? I feel posting the students' grades can decrease their confidence level and can lead to them to stop trying. When I display my students' work, I normally ask the students to write their name, or first and last initial, on the opposite side of the page so that the students cannot identify others' work. Students work should be confidential and not displayed to the public. We as educators are here to encourage students' learning, not discourage it.

Patricia's picture
Patricia
Kindergarten teacher from MN

First of all, I love your idea of displaying classroom's data rather than individual data. When you do so, you do not display names, so everybody feels part of it and nobody feels like a failure. I also like your idea of displaying good behavior. It is so important nowadays.
In my classroom, I usually display all student works, typically art works (I teach kindergarten) to display everybody's contribution to the class. There is no number attached, so nobody feels bad or embarrassed, but rather proud of seeing their work on the walls and in the hallways. A few years ago, my district emphasized the need to display only carefully chosen student works for all to see. They were supposed to be the best projects. However, my kindergarten colleagues and I felt that only the same students would have their works displayed.
Like you, I believe that students' private data should not be posted publicly. Doctors do not do that with their patients' data, so why would teachers do that? In my school, my principal always reminds us to protect the privacy of our students and only discuss student progress or the lack of progress with their parents only. Posting numbers only makes struggling students feel embarrassed and uncomfortable and successful students feel too empowered at times and tease their not as successful peers. I believe that this practice only encourages more inequality between students and individuals in society. A test, like the NNAT that is administered to determine who is "gifted" and who is not only makes the gap between students even bigger. Students' success or lack of success should not be publicly posted; it is a private matter.

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