Last year, K-12 teachers in the Holyoke, Massachusetts school district were told to try a new tactic to improve test scores: posting “data walls” in their classrooms. The walls list students by name and rank them by their scores on standardized tests. This, they say administrators told them, would motivate children to try harder on those tests.
Teachers did so, many unwillingly. Agustin Morales, an English teacher at Maurice A. Donahue Elementary School in Holyoke felt pressure to comply, but finds the data walls cruel. One of his top students did poorly on a standardized test in November and found her name at the bottom of the data wall. Afterward, in a writing assignment for class, she “wrote about how sad she was, how depressed she was because she’d scored negatively on it, she felt stupid.”
“So why do I hate data walls?” he continued. “Because of how she felt that day. She felt worthless. She felt like she wasn’t as good as other people.”
Well, YEAH. I think that was kind of the point.
We forget how serious kids are, how much they take in and how much they remember. We assume, I think, that they’re not people just because occasionally they throw tantrums over stupid shit. And plenty of so-called adults, I think, conveniently forget what it was like being that age, when everything is out of your control and nothing makes any damn sense at all.
Let’s assume the intent truly was to motivate. Not everyone is motivated by the same tactics. One kid might get good and pissed off and be determined to make it to the top of that wall. Another will want to crawl in a hole and die. I can tell you, having been an elementary school kid once upon a time, I’d have been the latter, and I was pretty good at school. There would have been a lot of convenient stomachaches and “fevers.”
However, it’s hard to give administrators even that much of the benefit of the doubt when they act like total assholes upon being called on their crap:
In Holyoke, teachers and parents flooded a school committee meeting (the equivalent of a school board) on February 3 to protest the use of the walls. Paula Burke, the parent of a third-grader at Donahue, called them “public humiliation” for children. But the teachers in attendance were surprised to hear Superintendent Sergio Paez, whom they say directed them to start using the walls, blame teachers for putting the names up. Arguing that he never intended the boards to be public, Paez said during the meeting, “I’m asking teachers to do hundreds of things, but I’m not asking them to humiliate kids… It’s not whatsoever a directive from this administration to do this.”
In response to his comments, the teachers released copies of a PowerPoint presentation given to teachers and paraprofessionals for kindergarten (yes, kindergarten) through third grade at Kelly Elementary School in Holyoke on October 11, 2013—at which Superintendent Paez delivered the welcoming remarks. The slides, provided to In These Times by teacher activists, clearly shows sample data walls with students’ first names and in some cases, last initials.
Whoops. Never put it in writing if you intend to lie about it later, morons.