I read in SomervillePatch that parents spoke out against classroom “data walls” at a recent school committee meeting, including one who said her daughter concluded from the chart in her classroom that she was stupid.
For those who haven’t followed this, these “data walls” are charts that show how individual Somerville students are progressing on a standardized tests called MAP for Measures of Academic Progress, which is given three times a year. Some charts show the child’s scores. Others show the “growth” score: how much the child’s score has gone up.
It’s all part of Somerville’s effort, so far mostly unsuccessful, to make “adequate yearly progress” as measured by the so-called “No Child Left Behind” law.
Even though Massachusetts kids are number one in the nation in test scores and very competitive internationally, more than half of Massachusetts schools are flunking NCLB. That’s because the law is crazy. I think we should stop trying to pass.
But I’m not writing about NCLB today. I’m writing about data walls.
SomervillePatch reported that teachers in grades 2 through 8 have been instructed to put up these charts. I’ve heard from some teachers that it’s not absolutely required, but they’ve been strongly urged to do it.
The children’s names are supposed to be coded so only the child knows where he or she is on the chart. But word gets around.
The principal and teachers of the Healey, where my granddaughters go to school, were kind enough to show me some of the data walls at their school.
They’re all different, all fascinating.
The teachers had worked hard to post the scores in a way that would minimize the pain to low-scoring kids.
One teacher put up a jungle scene with lots of monkeys, each one with a number representing a child. Above the scene, from left to right, were the levels of the MAP test—I don’t remember what the levels are called, but basically from poor to great. Each monkey’s position showed that child’s score.
Another teacher created an ocean scene with big turtles and other sea creatures, and also a lot of little fish. Each fish represented one child. She told each child which fish was his or hers, but the rest of the class isn’t supposed to know. This teacher thinks data walls are a good idea, at least for this class of students, although not necessarily for all classes. She didn’t want her children to feel they were competing with each other, so she told the children the chart showed them all working hard to improve their reading. One child, she said, responded, “It’s like in Finding Nemo, when the fish were trying to get out of the net: ‘Swim harder, swim harder!’”
Some other teachers at a range of grade levels said they really didn’t want to put up data walls but felt pressured to.
The day I saw these charts, my granddaughter’s third grade teacher had not posted any representation of individual scores, but she had a big thermometer chart on her wall showing the average score for the class and the class target. Near the thermometer was a poster she made with the class. She asked her children why they read, and the poster showed their answers:
We read because we love to read.
We read to learn.
We read to get information.
We read to calm ourselves.
A few weeks later, she added a different kind of data wall. This one does show individual progress, but not the kind that counts with bureaucrats in Washington. She asked each child what progress he or she had made since the start of the year and posted what they wrote, including:
at the beginning of the year I would not like to write but now I like to write.
In the beginning I bothered a lot of kids. Not anymore.
at the beginning of the year I diddent know how to spell huge words like humongous now I do after I think about it for a while.
I hope we’ll hear more information and opinions about these charts from parents, teachers, school committee members, and school officials.