I’ve been following and minimally contributing to the discussion of data walls in Somerville Public Schools. My daughter wondered, if we don’t believe in data walls, and we think they’re wrong, can’t all the parents just not send their kids to school and wouldn’t they have to stop because otherwise there wouldn’t be a school? I think she would do a fine job in Wisconsin or Egypt. She’s got a mind to fight with her feet for her ideals. She said she wouldn’t go to school if there was a data wall in her classroom, as it’s private information, and she doesn’t want anyone seeing her scores on the wall.

While this article and visual about data walls from the Somerville Public Schools Central Administration suggests displaying individual data on the walls of the classroom and in school corridors is anonymous, parents in a number of our schools have reported that children as young as first grade could identify their own data and that of their friends, and that in one case, the data was displayed with names, and the colors of the kids’ were coded, red for low, yellow for middle, green for high scorers. That one did violate someone’s sense of right and wrong and Central Administration made sure it was taken down. However, you know news travels. If each child knows his or her own score, which is the goal, it’s not likely those scores will remain anonymous for long.

My kids have been high and middle and low scorers. None of the three, ranging from ten to sixteen years old, think that posting individual student standardized test score or improvement data on the walls is a good idea. They have many reasons. Recently my ten year old daughter was acknowledged individually by her teachers for improving from “scoring worse than most of the kids in her class in math to scoring better than a lot of them” and as part of her class by her principal for “scoring as a class better than other classrooms at their grade level” (quotes denoting my daughter’s words, not the teachers’ or principal’s). While she and I both expect the teachers’ intentions were to support my daughter’s progress “It should be private.” was her response. “And, why should I feel good for doing better than someone else? Isn’t the point to do well for myself?” Not to mention the concerns that swirl in my mind, about valuing kids based on test scores, about devaluing other aspects of human development, about extrinsic motivation, about the unseemly side effects of ranking kids by academic test scores within a diverse socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, language, and learning community. My concerns go on and on.

Proudly, though, Central Administration tells us that data walls will continue to be used throughout our school system,

“to empower children, to make them active participants in their own learning and to be in control of their individual success.  Students should feel a sense of personal efficacy, learning to make a straight-line connection between hard work and success, providing a visual reinforcement for the belief that “smart is something you get” and celebrates the application of effort and reaching for higher levels of achievement.”

I personally, don’t buy a word of it. Hogwash is what I say to data walls and research and consultants and administration telling us to put up with them in our schools.

Here is the cut and paste article from the SPS newsletter. Read it and decide for yourself how you feel and what you should do about data walls.

It’s hard to get it to fit properly within the margins, so here’s the link to the online article:

http://www.somerville.k12.ma.us/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?sectiondetailid=13771

Assessment Practices

The Somerville Public Schools has a comprehensive system of assessing student progress that includes teacher developed classroom assessments, quarterly grade reports, local assessments, and statewide standardized tests including MCAS, MEPA and MELA-O. Assessment data is used to individualize instruction in the classroom, make decisions about student needs, and improve instructions across grades and department.

Statewide Standardized Tests
MCAS: The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education also regularly assesses student proficiency in Reading, English Language Arts, Math and Science/Technology using theMassachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). The MCAS tests students in all public and charter schools across the Commonwealth to ensure that schools are meeting the standards set by the Massachusetts Department of Education. 

The elementary MCAS tests are intended to help schools and teachers know if students have mastered the content required to succeed in high school. This is important because high school students and adult learners in the ADP program must pass currently achieve a grade of Proficient or higher on three MCAS tests (English Language Arts, Math, Science) as one requirement of earning a diploma. Students may take these tests up to five times to achieve a passing score. MCAS tutoring, paid for with a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, is offered on Saturday mornings at Somerville High School to provide students at Somerville High School, Full Circle Alternative High School and SCALE provides high quality tutoring that has ensured a 99% MCAS proficiency rate in the Somerville Public Schools.

The MCAS test schedule in the Somerville Public Schools is available in the District’s online calendar. The statewide test scheduleis available through the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

MEPA and MELA-O: The Somerville Public Schools also tests English Language Learners on their oral and written English proficiency using the Commonwealth’sMeasurement of English Proficiency Assessment (MEPA). MEPA test results are used by the District to determine if a student continues to need sheltered English Immersion Program or other academic support services to help them master English. The MEPA and MELA-O test schedule in the Somerville Public Schools is available in the District’s online calendar.

Local Assessment

Providing teachers with “real time” data on how their students are progressing towards their grade level standards is the reason for the Somerville Public Schools’ comprehensive, interim local assessment program called Measures of Academic Progress (MAPS). This data, collected from students in Grades 2 – 8 three times per year (fall, winter and spring) in the areas of vocabulary, reading and mathematics allows teachers to better understand individual student’s mastery of lessons and concepts so they adjust instruction accordingly.

Data walls show students, confidentially or anonymously, how they are progressing on classroom standards 

Another benefit to having such detailed assessment data is in student goal setting. As part of this goal-setting process, assessment data is shared with students by their teacher. This often happens as part of a individual conference, and students are encouraged to work toward improvement goals that they establish for themselves.

Visual Displays of Student Growth Data: Student assessment data may be displayed in the classroom or in an adjacent hallway. Teachers make sure that students are not individually identified in these displays and that improvement, or growth, is highlighted. The use of assessment data for goal setting and for public display has a common research base, and its overall goal is to empower children, to make them active participants in their own learning and to be in control of their individual success.  Students should feel a sense of personal efficacy, learning to make a straight-line connection between hard work and success, providing a visual reinforcement for the belief that “smart is something you get” and celebrates the application of effort and reaching for higher levels of achievement.

Guidelines for visual displays of student growth data, shared with Principals and Assistant Principals in mid-February 2011, are as follows:

  • Growth is Best : The data display’s emphasis should be on growth instead of absolute performance. That is,change in the RIT score (in MAP, Measurement of Academic Progress, Somerville’s formative assessment system for grades 2 – 8) should be emphasized, not the RIT score itself or a comparison to other students.
  • Data Groupings : Individual student data is but one of a number of data groupings that are possible. Teachers have reported success with plotting growth on the whole class level. Other schools have tried grade level and school level groupings to chart growth. Whichever type of grouping is chosen, the objective is celebrating success, measuring student progress towards the teacher’s learning goals.
  • Teacher Choice : Since the use of student data sharing is an instructional strategy, our position has always been that teachers can choose how to implement the data sharing strategy. A data sharing strategy is required of all elementary teachers, but posting of individual student data is not required. Among the strategies that can be used successfully, alone or in combinations the teacher feels are appropriate, are goal-setting conferences, maintaining “growth folders” for individual students including graphical displays of growth, other visual displays. These strategies will vary depending on the grade level and the teacher’s judgment about the best ways to motivate their students forward. The postings can be physically located in the classroom or an adjacent hallway.
  • Opt Out: Parents/guardians can opt out if they prefer their child’s individual data not be displayed publicly. Several circumstances involving opt out have already surfaced and have been addressed with sensitivity by teachers and administrators on site. Detailed administrative guidelines for the opt out option are still under development.
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