Coming to A School Near You: DATA WALLS!

When I was a newly minted teacher in 1998 the public display of our students’ capabilities was limited to posting grade sheets that included complex student ID numbers but no names. The notion of posting the test scores or specific skills of our students was not even a twinkle in the most cold-hearted education reformer’s eye. Then in 2002 after the passage of NCLB the word “accountability” took on new meaning. The frequency of testing increased overall from every three years to every single year while the number of tested subjects actually dropped (politicians don’t care about Social Studies).

This was also the beginning of using data to hold schools and teachers “accountable” for achievement. The test scores for schools were printed in the newspaper.  Schools were given “grades” based on how well their students tested.  These grades pretty much ignored every other facet of educating a child. This oversimplification was insulting but was tolerated.

Next was the comparison of test scores by teacher. I had one particularly myopic assistant principal who would bring our test scores to faculty meetings and rank us by achievement. She completely ignored factors such as # of students with special needs, English language learners, and the unequal distribution of students in advanced classes, but we had already gotten in the habit of ignoring mitigating factors so continuing in that tradition was business as usual.

Now, we have finally progressed to the point where we get to humiliate our 5 year-olds in the same simplistic and public manner that we have been shaming schools and students for over a decade.  Schools around the country have started posting “data walls” in classrooms where children who have not managed to learn the alphabet get to have their names posted for all to see. Those students in first grade who can memorize single digit math facts FINALLY have a public space to separate themselves from the other losers in their class who haven’t mastered that task.

I found this on Pinterest.  Clearly, this teacher is proud of how colorful her wall of failure is.

I found this on Pinterest. This teacher must be  proud of how creatively colorful her wall of failure is.

Decades of research that does not exist clearly indicates that the best way to get  kids to achieve is to motivate them through humiliation. It has worked so well in the past for schools and teachers, that it only seems natural to extend the power of public accountability to kids as well.  Education reformers have long held the position that the main reason schools are “failing” is because their failures have not been made public so that we can hold them accountable.  Why shouldn’t that apply to preschoolers as well?

What possible harm could come from moving kids from one side of the data wall to the other after they master a skill until only one child is left on the side of failure?  Surely, the desire to avoid humiliation will be the final piece of the puzzle that these kids needed to get their acts together and ACHIEVE.  I mean, there’s no way that a child who struggles to learn will notice that he or she is usually one of the last to make it on the Data Tree of College and Career Readiness, right?  Take a look at the picture below.  You think that every kid in this class doesn’t know who #2 and #15 are and that they rank at the bottom on both lists?  If you do then you’ve never set foot in a classroom.

#2 and #15 please step forward.  You have been deemed FAR BELOW BASIC by the Lords of Accountability.

#2 and #15 please step forward. You have been deemed FAR BELOW BASIC by the Lords of Accountability.

In fact, why stop there? Why don’t we go ahead and print them in the newspaper too so that their neighbors and community can hold them accountable?  Maybe they can wear scarlet “F’s” on their shirts at recess so the other kids can peg dodge balls at them until these little slouches finally buckle down and use a capital letter properly.  The list should probably go to the North Pole as well so Santa knows which kids deserve to have candy in their stockings and which kids obviously need some flash cards.  We can even make up folk songs for John Mayer to sing about the Data Wall Boogieman who comes to steal kids who are on the wrong side of the line between “basic” and “proficient”.

#5 - How can we make sure everybody else knows who they are by name and how they are responding?

#5 – How can we make sure everybody else knows who they are by name and how they are responding?

What really makes me sad about all of this is that some TEACHERS have bought into this idea.  There are Pinterest boards dedicated to making nifty data walls (please don’t go look those up).

These teachers  have forgotten the difference between data “informed” and data “driven”.  Educators have been data informed for decades.  Data is collected in multiple forms, used to guide instruction and then used for remediation or enrichment.  Education reformers would have you believe they were the first to think of using data in the classroom.  As far as I’m concerned they can have credit for that as long as they also take responsibility for this abomination.

What’s it going to take America?  If protecting the hearts and feelings of a little kids isn’t enough to get you to stand up and do something about the direction that education reformers are taking us, then I don’t know what is.

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