‘Data walls’ in Massachusetts shame students with low test scores

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At least one psychopathically cruel person involved in the Holyoke, Mass. public school system thinks it is a good idea to use “data walls” to motivate students.

A data wall is a public display — for grade-school kids, or junior high kids or high school kids — which exhibits test scores or reading levels of all kids for every kid to see. Publicly displayed posters listing the first and last names of students as young as third grade — and perhaps even younger — inform anyone who leers which students are succeeding and which students are failing in a given academic area.

Such a wall might make the most advanced kid in a class feel proud. The kids who struggle with some subject, however—maybe not so much.

Some public school classrooms in Holyoke have been using data walls since the beginning of this academic year, reports local Fox affiliate WGGB. They show each student’s name along with progress in a particular academic area.

“What they say data walls are supposed to do is to create a friendly competition between the students,” Gus Morales, a teacher at Donahue Elementary School, told the Fox station. “What we’ve all seen is that’s not what it does. It demoralizes the students. It lowers their self-esteem because a lot of the students struggle with English, or have a learning disability.”

Morales further explained that data walls have strong support in certain segments of academia. However, his belief, as someone “on the front line” of teaching, is that most teachers oppose data walls.

Sergio Paez, the superintendent of Holyoke’s public school system, has stressed that the school district doesn’t require data walls.

“It’s not a mandate whatsoever,” Paez told WGGB.

At the same time, Paez came out in favor of displays telling each and every kid how all the other kids rank on various standardized tests and in various academic skills.

“We’ve been doing professional development to look at the data,” Paez explained. “For the most part, I would say 99 percent of teachers see the benefit of it.”

A few parents have been protesting Holyoke’s data walls, according to local NBC affiliate WWLP.

“Parents are largely unaware that their children’s names and personal academic information are being shared with the public without their consent,” Paula Burke, the mother of a Holyoke third grader, told the NBC station. “Data should be used to drive instruction, not to publicly humiliate children.”

The student handbook for the Holyoke Public School informs students and parents that “personally-identifiable student work may be displayed on bulletin boards” “during the course of the school year.” Parents and students who bother to read the handbook are told that they may opt out of such display up to one week after receiving the handbook by way of a written objection.

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Eric Owens