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“Data Walls” Source Of New Debate In Holyoke

Data Wall

HOLYOKE, Mass (WGGB) — Debate is heating up in Holyoke over the use of so-called “data walls” in public schools. The data walls are charts that track academic achievement like reading levels. Teachers and parents who packed into Dean Technical High School for the Holyoke School Committee meeting Monday night say teachers are being pressured into using too much data and not enough old fashioned teaching, with data walls at the center of the issue.

“Students spend entire days testing and then have their names show up on some data wall that shows the world how smart or how dumb they are,” one teacher said during the public speak out portion of the meeting.

Other teachers and parents echoed his concerns, saying they can’t stand the use of data walls and have concerns over privacy laws, too.

“Anyone can walk in to a certain computer lab  or in a classroom and see my child’s name and her reading level or her math scores,” parent Paula Burke said. “If they are below level it can really affect their self esteem.”

But data walls are not supposed to use any names at all. Still, teachers confirm that they are. Some teachers provided a photocopy of a data wall currently hanging in one school, that listed fake student names with recent academic scoring. Teachers say the original copy in the classroom had correct names, while the copy they handed out was changed to protect the students’ identities.

“If you think publicly humiliating children is a way to motivate them you are really wrong and I take great issue with that,” Burke said.

The school department maintains that data walls are to be anonymous visual aides, with students only knowing their own identification and teachers using them to guide instruction. A data wall flyer that the district says principals were instructed to give all teachers last fall lists the first bullet item as “ensuring student privacy.”

“Different schools have chosen to do it in different ways,” Director of Student Services Gina Roy said. ” Some use a number to identify the student, some have symbols for the younger students, but it’s a way to motivate them to improve their performance but in no way is it supposed to humiliate or make them feel bad about themselves.”

So where exactly did the data wall directions get confused, to the point student names are being used?  The school department says that’s what they now have to investigate and straighten out.

Still, Burke says even if the program is totally anonymous, kids can figure out codes and “secret” identifications, find out whose scoring what, and possibly create self esteem issues. The school department says this practice goes on in other districts, with success, and only has positive intentions.

School committee members did not respond to the public comments from teachers and parents on Monday. There’s no word tonight if they plan to address the data wall issue as an agenda item in a coming meeting.

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